Depending on whom you ask or at what studies you look, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program is either an effective way to keep kids from experimenting with drugs and alcohol and warn them away from trouble in general, or it’s an ineffective waste of money that in some cases may actually be counterproductive.
D.A.R.E. was co-founded in 1983 by then-Los Angeles Police Commissioner Daryl F. Gates and Glenn Levant, a former deputy chief in the department. It’s been used in nearly 80 percent of U.S. school districts.
Several studies ultimately determined the program was ineffective in reducing drug and alcohol use and, according to a few reports, might even be detrimental. The program has been criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Surgeon General.
On the other hand, a study published in the Journal of the National Medical Association found that “students who have completed D.A.R.E. are five times less likely to start smoking than their peers who have not completed the program.”
In 2003, D.A.R.E. came under harsh criticism, and the bulk of its federal funding was cut. Despite some studies arguing its benefits, its critics contend there’s no proof the program is effective.
Scott Gilliam, director of training for D.A.R.E. America, counters that charge. In response to questions via email, he wrote, “If you had read an article that said D.A.R.E. was not effective, that article had to be very old. At D.A.R.E. America we are very familiar with every article that has been written and without going into details, they may not have been completely fair.”
A public announcement by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.—a professor emeritus of sociology of the State University of New York at Potsdam, who runs the alcoholfacts.org website—vehemently rejects D.A.R.E. America’s claims and cites an article in the Detroit News that claims, “World-renowned psychologists Bill Coulson, Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow developed the theories that D.A.R.E. was founded on. Rogers and Maslow later admitted their theories were wrong and off base. Coulson concluded that the program is ‘rooted in trash psychology.’”
It’s obviously difficult to sort out the truth.
The SLO Police Department used to have an officer who administered the D.A.R.E. program, but according to Capt. Chris Staley, the department “lost that position two years ago” due to “budget issues” and cutbacks due to the recession.
“I thought it was a good position,” Staley said, “but we needed to focus on delivering our core services, and we had to let it go. We had some good feedback from a lot of parents about the program. It helped some kids, but not every kid. For a lot of kids, it made sure their first exposure to the police wasn’t in a negative light.”
Whether or not D.A.R.E. was effective may be considered a moot point for local school districts since three years ago the SLO County Sheriff’s Department switched to a program called Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.), whose website claims it’s an “evidence-based and effective” gang and violence prevention program. They point to a National Institute of Justice-commissioned, nationwide, long-term evaluation of the program that started in 2006 and concluded in 2012 as proof.
More positive attitudes toward law enforcement, less positive attitude about gangs, lower rates of gang membership, higher levels of altruism, and less risk seeking are a few of the positive gains the program claims to have measured. The report concludes that “one year post program showed a 39 percent reduction in odds of gang joining among students who received the program compared to those who did not and an average of 24 percent reduction in odds of gang joining across the four years post program.”
According to Sheriff Ian Parkinson, “We found the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum matched the issues taking place on our school campuses more than the D.A.R.E. program, which was primarily focused on drugs. And while there is that component to the G.R.E.A.T. program, it also deals with a wide range of issues like violence prevention, bullying, and making positive life choices.”
The new program is offered at 17 local schools within the sheriff’s jurisdiction, where school resource officers provide six once-a-week classes for students in fourth and fifth grade and 12 once-a-week classes for students in sixth through eighth grade. It culminates with a free, weeklong Sheriff’s Youth Camp, which is held at various school campuses during the summer.
Glen Starkey is a New Times staff writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.