Pubdate: Mon, 26 Dec 2011 Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA) Copyright: 2011 Tribune-Review Publishing Co. Contact: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/opinion/letters/send/ Website: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/460 Author: Tory N. Parrish, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review D.A.R.E. PROGRAM EFFECTIVE DESPITE DOWNSIZING, ADVOCATES SAY Whitehall police Officer David Artman remembers the woman's bruised face when he and his partner responded to a domestic dispute. They left that August day, he said, with her intoxicated boyfriend in handcuffs. Alcohol or drugs factor into domestic violence "almost every time," Artman told seventh-graders during a recent Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., program at J.E. Harrison Middle School in Baldwin-Whitehall School District. The D.A.R.E. program engages kids in discussions about drug abuse, peer pressure, self-esteem and bullying. Artman certainly reaches his audience, Principal Michael R. Wetmiller said. "He's a great guy and he really gets the kids, just gets their attention. The kids seem to really be in tune to him," he said. Whitehall spends about $60,000 annually on the program and expanded it recently in the school district because the Baldwin Borough police department has no D.A.R.E. officer. But D.A.R.E. programs across Pennsylvania are scaling back or ending because lawmakers eliminated state funding and in-state D.A.R.E. certification for police officers. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency administered the program, which cost $1.8 million in 2009-10, its last budget year. Today, the state has an estimated 500 D.A.R.E. officers, compared with 1,500 officers in 2000, said Jack Killian, treasurer for the Pennsylvania D.A.R.E. Officers Association and a retired Pottsville police detective. Police departments in Ross, Shaler and Penn Hills are among those that nixed D.A.R.E. programs. The program did more than teach youths about ways to prevent drug abuse, Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said. "If nothing else, it exposed the children to police officers in the classroom," said Burton, noting that some students reported drug activities taking place in their neighborhoods and homes because of what they learned in D.A.R.E. Despite Pennsylvania's cutbacks, D.A.R.E. programs nationwide have remained relatively stable: 10,000 communities offer programs and there are 15,000 active D.A.R.E. instructors, said Frank Pegueros, executive director of D.A.R.E. America in Inglewood, Calif. Founded in Los Angeles in 1983, D.A.R.E. remains the most widely used drug-abuse prevention program, taught in 75 percent of U.S. schools and 43 countries. Critics have debated its effectiveness, but in recent years, it has been revamped to include more interactive lessons and components that can be tailored to meet community-specific needs. Police say the issue is money, not the program's effectiveness. "The money isn't there. The people aren't there to do it. It's a shame, because the kids really enjoy it," said Monroeville's D.A.R.E. officer, Patrolman Fred Hohman, who teaches a shortened program in Gateway School District. After last year's retirement of full-time D.A.R.E. officer Patrolman Robert Muchenski, Ross police are "doing our best to maintain and to foster relationships with the schools and community, but ... we are limited in what we can do," said Detective Brian Kohlhepp, the department's spokesman. At Harrison Middle School, students said they'll remember and apply the lessons Artman offered. "If someone asks you to do something you don't want to do, you can do what D.A.R.E. taught you and say no," said Destiny Gallimore, 12. Antonio Molinaro, 13, learned to reject drug offers assertively. "It's easy to say no," he said. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.