Another Positive Evaluation of D.A.R.E.
The Elgin, Illinois Police Department has found the D.A.R.E. program to be an effective way to reach children with a positive message. Our full-time D.A.R.E. officers begin their interaction with a brief visit to kindergartners and interact with them again when they reach the third grade. But the zenith of our effort is at the fifth grade level when more than 1,400 students throughout the city are exposed to D.A.R.E. officers for two hours every week in their classrooms.
A small bridge of trust is built during these precious hours each week. Enhanced communication occurs that can greatly influence the perception those children will have of police officers when they become adults, and continue throughout their lives.
Our D.A.R.E. officers often receive letters of thanks from children whose first prolonged interaction with our police force has been fun for them. In one such note, a fifth-grader named Trisha, thanked her D.A.R.E. officer for all that he taught her. "Thank you so much for all you have done," she wrote, "you have taught me so much, and you're the best officer I have ever met."
Trisha's new found respect for that police officer is going to stay with her for some time, and is part of the foundation to be built upon as she matures and develops her own attitudes about right and wrong. However, Trisha's time with a police officer is not limited to the classroom. That same officer is available to talk to her during lunch or on the playground. She sees her police officer in the hallways, and the officer becomes familiar to Trisha in a non-threatening way. These many interactions allow for trust and communication to occur. Interaction with that D.A.R.E. officer has given a "cop" a human face. He is no longer a faceless blur racing by in a squad car with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Police officers are now considered approachable by students, and the importance of that one fact should never be underestimated when evaluating the success of the D.A.R.E. program.
Indeed studies have shown that D.A.R.E. students view police in a more positive light than non-D.A.R.E. students. When the D.A.R.E. program is used in combination with other community policy outreach efforts, children find themselves interacting regularly with police officers in non-conflict situations. A dialogue is opened that leads to less discontented attitudes between police and young adults. D.A.R.E. programs can also be especially helpful in bridging the cultural diversity gap between children from minority communities and the police department.
Are we going to be able to say the D.A.R.E. program is definitely having an impact on the drug problem? In drug prevention, it is difficult to say how effective we are. All we can do is keep working at it, much like doctors have worked to get to the cause of human diseases. It may take a long time to see the effects our D.A.R.E. program has had, but social issues like drug abuse need a multifaceted approach of both prevention and education to be successful. D.A.R.E. is just one approach.
I do believe that the program's success can be
measured in terms of the positive relationships it offers between the
police department and the children we serve, and in turn, their families,
the next generation of young adults, and of course, our entire community.
Written by Charles A. Gruber
Charles A. Gruber is former Chief of the Elgin Police Department in Elgin, Illinois and a former president of the IACP.