December 16, 2017

Officer Reflects on Years of D.A.R.E.

Posted on September 8, 2005 by in Hometown, News, Washington

Union-Bulletin – September 2005

walla_000Kids adore him. Criminals fear him.

Al Schneidmiller concedes it’s a gift not everyone has.

Only a rare breed of police officer can juggle between the gruffness of crimefighting and affability of teaching. Four letters better describe that skill: DARE.

Recently honored as the Washington State Drug Abuse Resistance Education Officer of the Year, Schneidmiller is happy to reflect on his 16 years as an educator and how the 1983 program has changed.

The 52-year-old College Place Police Officer says he sometimes changes hats in a matter of minutes, going from the streets to the classroom.

“You have to shun off that gruff personality” that works like a shield, Schneidmiller said about being a D.A.R.E. officer.

Once a week, the night-shift police officer becomes a daytime teacher to fifth-graders, talking about “gateway drugs” such as tobacco, alcohol, inhalants and marijuana. Last year he taught kindergarteners through third-graders about safety in the home and on the street.

D.A.R.E. has changed from a 75-page workbook that elementary students had to read on their own to a 60-page workbook that students look at in teams.

Currently he teaches “what if” situations combined with class discussions.

“They’re at the age level when they haven’t had a drug offer, but statistically will receive a drug offer the next couple of years,” he said about fifth-graders.

He said he has learned from parents over the years that the program works because kids confront their parents about tobacco and alcohol.

Schneidmiller became a D.A.R.E. officer in 1989 after attending an 80-hour course through the State Criminal Justice Center.

“Basically what they do is (smooth) the rough edges of a police officer and teach you how to deal with kids,” said Schneidmiller, who has been an officer for 33 years.

Police Chief Dennis Lepiane said he put Schneidmiller on the spot to as the only D.A.R.E. officer in College Place because he showed an interest in helping kids stay away from drugs.

The 2,000-plus students Schneidmiller has taught warranted recognition, Lepiane said.

“He (taught students), who now have kids, that still recognize him now,” he said. “He’s certainly influenced a lot of students.”

A former student reminded him of that accomplishment, Schneidmiller said.

Not too long ago as he stepped inside a Walla Walla bank, a woman behind the counter recognized him and told him she was in one of the first classes he taught. They reminisced about the class and his words of advice.

As he began to leave, he said, the pregnant woman told him, “Officer Al, I never used drugs, and the man I married never used drugs, and we’re going to raise our kid that way.”

The words were disarming.

“I was walking out of there 10-feet high and drying my eyes,” he said. “I got one. I know I got one.”