Pubdate: Mon, 06 Sep 2010
Source: Detroit News (MI)
Copyright: 2010 The Detroit News
Author: Christine Ferretti, The Detroit News


Fewer schoolchildren in Metro Detroit will have officers in their
classrooms this fall to warn them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

The latest police department to drop or pare participation in Drug
Abuse Resistance Education, Warren is reassigning officers to road
patrols. Shelby Township cut DARE for similar reasons but reached a
deal last month with Utica Community Schools to preserve a scaled-down
version of the course.

The police-led classroom series has been dropped from dozens of
Michigan departments in recent years. Lincoln Park and Woodhaven
police nixed the program years ago. Sterling Heights said the fate of
its drug awareness course is uncertain.

State DARE coordinator Audrey Z. Martini said 92 Michigan agencies
taught DARE to 35,926 students in 438 schools in January. That's down
from the 116 agencies signed up in the 2008-09 school year and 128 in
2007-08. Participation for this fall is pending, she said.

Another change, Martini says, is that fewer officers are dedicated to
DARE full-time. The shift represents the compromise made by chiefs and
sheriffs who don't want to drop the program, but need their DARE
officers helping with patrols and other assignments, Martini said.
Falling tax revenue has forced departments to let vacancies go
unfilled or lay off officers.

"The change happened as resources started shrinking. The result is
less time for fundraising and other DARE-related activities outside
the classroom," said Martini, director of outreach for the School of
Criminal Justice at Michigan State University.

Funding for DARE varies for each state and agency. Some use drug
forfeiture money; others factor it into departmental budgets, and
still others pay for it through fundraisers and donations.

In Warren, DARE was part of the department's annual budget. Police
Commissioner William Dwyer said DARE was among the cuts he proposed to
reduce the budget by about $4 million.

Warren had DARE for 18 years and allocated $28,000 for

Dwyer said the two officers trained to teach the program are now
assigned to road patrol. The city is already down 19 positions and
with retirements, Dwyer expects that number to double next year.

"I am mandated to cut the budget, and I can't cut officers on the road
that are responding to 911 calls," Dwyer said.

In Shelby Township, DARE is funded through an annual golf outing. But
Chief Robert Leman said money isn't the issue: he needs his DARE
officer on the road. And that'll happen, he said, since the Utica
district has agreed to hire the officer part-time to teach the program.

Funding issues forced Lincoln Park Police to drop the program in

Looking at options

Schools in Sterling Heights -- including some from Warren Consolidated
Schools and Utica Community Schools districts -- will have DARE, for
now. But Sterling Heights Police Chief Mike Reese said the program
will be evaluated every year.

Michelle Pugh, PTA president for Browning Elementary in Sterling
Heights, said parents and students love DARE and hope it will be offered.

"I would hate to see it go away," she said.

If Sterling Heights cuts the program, Pugh's youngest daughter,
Cameron, 9, won't benefit. Pugh's son, Connor, 12, graduated from DARE
this year. "Everyone deserves a chance to go through the program," he

Martini said more agencies are looking for alternatives -- such as
hiring retired former DARE officers. Others are turning to the
Michigan State Police TEAM (Teaching, Educating, And Mentoring)
project, a State Police program that supplements a single lesson, not
the 10 lessons over 10 weeks like DARE requires, Martini said.

Leman said the Shelby Township department's DARE officer will be
contracted by the Utica district. "We didn't want to see it go by the
wayside," Leman said. "We came up with this solution, and it doesn't
impact my road strength."

Dwyer said he isn't opposed to DARE but believes the curriculum is
"inflexible." In some cases, he added, drug awareness programs
tailored to each community are more effective.

"There are alternative educational programs for kids," said Dwyer, who
developed the program Teaching-Helping-Involving-Noticing-Kids (THINK)
as police chief in Farmington Hills.

Some criticism

Founded in Los Angeles in 1983, DARE is used in 75 percent of the
nation's school districts and in more than 43 countries.

It's had its critics. In the 1990s, several studies came out attacking
the effectiveness of the program's early curriculum, which has since
been revised. "I don't think I have ever had a department cancel DARE
because they don't think it works," said Chad Hurrle of the Lake
County Sheriff's Department, who is a past president of the DARE
Officers Association of Michigan.

"When a 25- or 30-year-old can still remember who their DARE officer
is, you can't tell me it doesn't work." 
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