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D.A.R.E. Program Staging Comeback

Posted on May 29, 2017 by in D.A.R.E. Comeback, Hometown, New Jersey, News

D.A.R.E. Program Staging Comeback

Bergenfield Police Officer Kyle Witty, Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson, Branchburg Policer Officer Kate Proscia, Warren Township Police Officer Joe Grasso and Summit Police Officer Matthew Tarantino realize the value of the D.A.R.E. program in the war against drugs. (Photo by Mike Deak).

BRIDGEWATER – The opioid epidemic in New Jersey and the rest of the country has prompted police officers to consider new strategies to fight the war against drugs.

Police are also returning to a proven effective strategy to prevent youths to resist the temptation even to experiment with drugs.

The D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, which teaches young students on the cusp of adolescence how to make decisions for safe and healthy living, was a presence in most school districts across the country after it was introduced in the 1980s.

In the D.A.R.E. program, police officers went to local schools and taught kids how to live drug-free lives confidently, drawing on the strengths of the students, their families, and communities. The program, a key component of community policing, also taught kids not to be afraid of police officers.

But when the recession struck a decade ago, police departments and school districts, feeling the vise of tightening budgets, abandoned their D.A.R.E. programs.

But now with the opioid epidemic, D.A.R.E. is making a welcome comeback as more and more police departments are realizing the value of investing in a program that targets kids before they become susceptible to temptation.

Last week, the Somerville Elks Lodge on Union Avenue hosted an intensive 40-hour course for 20 police officers from nine states who will be training their fellow officers to become D.A.R.E. officers. The officers came from Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Newark, South Carolina and Virginia; four of the officers came from New Jersey, including two from Somerset County.

In addressing the officers on Friday, Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson said that when he took office in 2016, he was disappointed that many municipalities and school districts had abandoned D.A.R.E. programs.

Since that time Robertson said that he has visited school superintendents to convince them that D.A.R.E. should be reinstituted.

“It’s an awesome example of community policing,” Robertson said.

Many police chiefs in Somerset County served as D.A.R.E. officers as they were moving up the ranks, said Jack Bennett of the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Officer, who also serves as D.A.R.E. training coordinator for New Jersey.

Trasining the trainers is the first steps in “re-booting” the D.A.R.E. program in New Jersey, Bennett said.

“The program is very successful,” said Warren Township Officer Joseph Grasso, one of the four New Jersey officers in the course.

Bergenfield Officer Kyle Witty said he can feel the excitement when he teaches a D.A.R.E. class to fifth- and seventh-graders.

“Every day when I’m in the classroom, I’m developing relationships,” he said.

For many children, the D.A.R.E. program is their first interaction with a police officer and it’s positive, said Branchburg Officer Kate Procia.

The children learn “we do not eat doughnuts,” Procia said.

Besides introducing the children to the strategies they need to stay out of trouble, Summit Officer Matthew Tarentino, the most essential thing that children learn is the importance of communication, not only with police officers but their parents, as well.

The training program was supported by a $4,000 grant from the Elks club and the Elks National Foundation. That covered 80 percent of the cost.

“My kids benefited from D.A.R.E. and I want to see more children benefit from it,” said Christine Henderson Rose, the district deputy grand exalted ruler. Promoting drug awareness is is one of the Elks’ national initiatives, she said.

“D.A.R.E. is one of my favorite programs,” Rose said.

The Somerville Elks lodge will also be the site for training D.A.R.E. trainers next year, Bennett said.

This article by Mike Deak is from MyCentralJersey.com.