Boulder Police Drop DARE
   Chief: It wasn't meeting students' needs
By Matt Sebastian, 11/29/98   Boulder News - Camera    Editor

Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner, convinced that the DARE drug-prevention effort isn't serving students, is dropping the controversial program in favor of developing a curriculum he hopes will be more efficient and effective.

"Nothing against DARE," Beckner said. "It just wasn't meeting all of our needs.

"We thought we could provide more services to more schools by having some more flexibility in the program."

The move comes just a few months after Boulder County Sheriff George Epp came to the same conclusion about the ubiquitous drug-education program. Louisville police dumped DARE two years ago.

"We had some concerns that the DARE curriculum was very rigid and that lack of flexibility was reducing its effectiveness," said Epp, whose department this fall initiated a more homegrown approach.

Louisville Police Chief Bruce Goodman said similar considerations played into his department's decision to pull out of DARE in 1996. "We started to wonder whether DARE was effective in decreasing drug use among children."

The DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program was started in 1983 in Los Angeles by then-Police Chief Darryl Gates. The idea behind the popular program is to send uniformed police officers to fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms to teach students to resist drug abuse.

According to DARE America's spokesman, Ralph Lockridge, about 80 percent of school districts across the country use the DARE curriculum. The program has spread to 44 countries, Lockridge said, reaching 35 millions students a year.

In Boulder County, the Longmont, Broomfield, Erie and Lafayette police departments continue to use the DARE program in Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley schools.

Despite its success, DARE has drawn heat in recent years as studies call into question the program's efficacy.

University of Colorado Professor Delbert Elliot, director of the college's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, recently completed a review of existing research and issued a position paper concluding that DARE "does not reduce the risk of future drug use."

"Overall, the research indicates that children who participate in the traditional DARE curriculum are just as likely to use drugs as children who do not participate in the program," Elliot wrote.

Although Beckner doesn't point to those conclusions as a motivating factor in his decision, the sheriff does.

"There's research that's been done nationally that says it's not as effective as it's portrayed as being," Epp said.

Pointing to Elliot's work, Epp said, "The weakness of the DARE program is that although it gives a good message, it gives it only through one channel _ that is, a law enforcement officer in the classroom for a relatively short period of time."

Drug issues should be addressed not only by police, Epp said, but also by teachers, parents and others in the community.

DARE America's spokesman attributes critical studies to a lack of follow-through during the middle- and high-school years.

"It's sort of like teaching someone 17 piano lessons in the fifth grade and expecting them to remember anything without any reinforcement when you test them in high school," Lockridge said.

He said it's the Boulder Police Department's prerogative to pull out of DARE, but he cautioned that not all agencies that eliminate the program ever get their own off the ground.

"The only problem DARE America has with communities that drop the DARE program is if they don't have something else to deliver to the kids," Lockridge said.

Beckner said his decision to eliminate DARE was based heavily on the program's exacting guidelines, which mandate what issues must be addressed when and for how long. "They have a pretty strict curriculum that you've got to follow. . . ."

"It's a large time commitment as well, and we thought we could do more in that time frame by coming up with our own curriculum," the chief said.

Boulder police have two DARE officers who will remain in the schools once the new program is developed. Deputy Police Chief Jim Hughes said the Community Services Unit will present a proposed curriculum to the department's executive staff on Dec. 7.

Until then, Beckner said, it's premature to speculate what exactly the new approach will entail. But, the chief noted, it won't focus solely on drug abuse. Possible topics could include driving instruction and responsibility issues.

"The primary thing is to build the relationship between the students and police officers and have that interaction," Beckner said. "We hope the dividends from that will play out in the future when they get older and they may have interactions with police outside of the classroom."

The chief doesn't think the move will save any money. The city budgeted $6,563 toward DARE this year.

"It may be more efficient because we may be able to reach more students," Beckner said. "But in hard dollars it won't be any cheaper. We're not doing this to save any money. We're doing this to be more effective."

School officials are supportive of the Boulder police and sheriff's department decisions. Barbara Conroy, director of educational services with Boulder Valley schools, said the district is working with Boulder police in developing the new curriculum.

"I think it's like a lot of things," she said. "You go and learn the basic model, and once you revise that, you start looking at ways to make it fit your community."

Louisville's Goodman said his department's program has been very successful and he wishes Boulder police luck in their efforts.

"It's difficult to withdraw from the program because of the amount of community support for it," Goodman said. "But for some of us there was a lot of pressure from the schools to do it.

"I don't believe DARE is meeting the needs of students anymore."

Copyright 1998 The Daily Camera.

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