Pubdate: Fri, 16 Nov 2007
Source: Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Newspaper Group


A Program That Puts Cops And Kids Together Isn't Easy To Oppose.

Just Say No to drugs? It's harder to just say no to DARE, which 
stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

Long Beach City Council members fussed among themselves this week 
about changing this or that detail, but ended up voting 6-1 to find 
some way to pay for restarting the somewhat controversial program in 
local schools.

We say somewhat controversial because there is little clear evidence 
that DARE gets results. Studies have showed it doesn't, but DARE 
revised its curriculum and disputes the negative findings.

You'll notice that schools don't usually volunteer to pay for DARE. 
Maybe that has something to do with professional educators standing 
aside while part-time retired cops with two weeks of drug-resistance 
training conduct their programs.

The only other evidence we have to offer is purely anecdotal, and it 
consists of high praise by some police officers and snickering by 
some students who've seen the program up close. One of the primary 
criticisms is that displaying drug paraphernalia to 10-year-olds 
stirs more curiosity than aversion to using drugs later in life (like 
two or three years later).

Another is that T-shirts and various other merchandise promoted by 
DARE America is sold by for-profit companies (with a modest 
contribution to DARE, of course).

Charity Navigator, the reliable nonprofit rating agency, gives DARE 
America only two stars, meaning that it isn't incompetent, but needs 
improvement. Still, a charitable rating agency doesn't have the means 
to assess program effectiveness, so that's of marginal help.

There's no reason to fear that DARE will do serious harm to the 
fifth-graders it serves, and any program that puts school kids 
together with police officers in a classroom has the potential for 
good. That leaves the question of who pays.

Which is where council members come in. Two suggested funding sources 
cleverly make it hard for a politician to say no. One puts a 
surcharge on towing a vehicle involved in a drug or drunkenness bust, 
and the other on business licenses that sell tobacco, alcohol or 
spray paint. Get it?

Councilman Gary DeLong cast the lone no vote on principle. City Hall 
already has more expenditures than revenue in its future, and even if 
new fees whack unpopular targets, the money ought to go for programs 
meriting the highest priorities. Not a bad principle.

The best argument for DARE might be that it won't take much money at 
all. Local DARE board members, to their credit, pledged $35,000, 
which leaves just $13,000 to go. Cities lose that much in rounding 
errors on little programs you've never heard of, although a better 
solution would be for a nonprofit to foot the bill.

The remaining concern is that DARE should do no harm. That's not 
certain, but it does seem manageable.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart