Pubdate: Tue, 21 Feb 2012 Source: Petaluma Argus-Courier (CA) Copyright: 2012 PressDemocrat.com Contact: http://www.petaluma360.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/741 Author: Marsha Trent, Argus-Courier D.A.R.E. PROGRAM RETURNS AFTER HIATUS After a three-year hiatus, a noted anti-drug and anti-violence program taught by local police officers returns to Petaluma elementary schools with strong community support. The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program fell victim to budget constraints resulting in staff decreases at the Petaluma Police Department a few years ago, according to Police Chief Dan Fish. The program returns to nine Petaluma elementary schools this year thanks to donations from the Petaluma Chapter of the North Bay Association of Realtors and the McDowell Drug Task Force. Fish said the money allows the Petaluma Police Department to pay three specially trained patrol officers to teach classes on a part-time basis during their off hours. Running the program this way should cost about $10,000 a year. The DARE program began in Los Angeles about 30 years ago and is now taught around the nation and internationally. Besides being axed in some communities a few years ago due to funding losses, the program became controversial when a 1997 study found it to be ineffective in preventing drug abuse among youth. As a result, federal funding for the program dried up, but public support remained strong in many communities. Whether DARE can be proven effective in preventing drug abuse, it has strong support from Petaluma police, Fish added. "My philosophy is community involvement on behalf of the police department means quality customer service -- those are our customers, the people of Petaluma. Having officers in classrooms, getting to know kids and teaching them about drug abuse cannot be a bad thing. Having officers mentor and be good role models provides the community with good service from the police department," Fish said. Three drugs likely to be abused by youngsters are the focus of the DARE program in Petaluma this year Fish said. They are tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. Marijuana has become a bigger concern because of its greater accessibility in the community due to medical marijuana use. DARE is right in line with the community service mission of the Petaluma Chapter of the North Bay Association of Realtors, said Rebecca Celli, president. This is the 18th year the local association has supported the DARE program. Annual contributions average about $5,000. "DARE works here in Petaluma," said McDowell Drug Task Force representative Dick Sharkey, which is one of the reasons his organizations' contributes about $3,000 annually to the program. "Many of our police officers are homegrown and they went through the DARE program," he added. It's true even for the officers who did not grow up in Petaluma, said police Capt. Dave Sears, who has been with the department for more than a decade. Sears said he was a DARE officer about 20 years ago in Benicia. He now oversees Petaluma's DARE officer; Nick McGowan, Matthew Frick and Art Farinha. Sears said the program "creates community relationships that help people make wise decisions and develop social skills they can use around the issues of drug abuse." Officer Matt Frick said, "I remember having DARE in elementary school." He credited the program with encouraging his interest in law enforcement. The Director of Student Services at the Petaluma City Elementary School District, Dave Rose, said officials brought the DARE program back as a pilot in one elementary school this year after looking at data that showed it to be "a necessary progression" to programs offered to junior high school students. Old Adobe Union School District Superintendent Cynthia Pilar said although DARE was dropped for funding reasons, there was strong support for it in the district. Prior studies of the program's effectiveness focused on drug use; new studies challenge those findings based on the program's ability to build connections, Pilar said. "The feedback we always got from students and parents stressed the good relationships the program created between students and law enforcement," she added. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.