Public wants D.A.R.E. back in schools

Community seeks meaningful ways to combat substance abuse, starting with youth

By GARY HENRY ghenry@prairiepress.net
Posted 1/23/23

It has been some time since D.A.R.E., taught by a police officer, has been offered in local schools, and there are some who want it back.

The topic was discussed during the Community Outreach …

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Public wants D.A.R.E. back in schools

Community seeks meaningful ways to combat substance abuse, starting with youth

Posted

It has been some time since D.A.R.E., taught by a police officer, has been offered in local schools, and there are some who want it back.

The topic was discussed during the Community Outreach meeting sponsored by Horizon Health Tuesday, Jan. 17. People attending these meetings are seeking meaningful ways to change the community by joining forces where possible and not duplicating efforts.

Kyra Graham, of Horizon Health, said prior discussion postulated the lack of a D.A.R.E. program in the schools is a contributing factor to substance abuse issues in the county. The acronym stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

“HRC provides evidence-based drug education in schools,” said Jonathan Burns, executive director of the Human Resources Center of Edgar and Clark Counties. “I’m not opposed to D.A.R.E., but statistically D.A.R.E. is not effective.”

At the request of Paris Police Chief Terry Rogers, retired police chief Mike Henness addressed the group. Henness was the longest serving D.A.R.E. officer in Illinois when he left the Paris D.A.R.E. program to assume the chief’s duties. No other officer stepped forward and the local program ceased operating.

Henness acknowledged the studies in the 1990s claiming D.A.R.E. did not work while noting national and local are different issues.

“We focused on local kids and their needs,” he said, although no local data was collected attempting to measure effectiveness.

Henness saw two objectives for D.A.R.E. The main focus was to prevent the abuse of drugs. The second goal was getting a uniformed officer before students on a regular basis as a positive influence.

During the years Henness served as a D.A.R.E. officer, HRC was also in the schools with its drug awareness education, and he regarded both efforts as part a bigger continuum to achieve the same purpose.

“I never butted heads with HRC,” Henness said. “We worked together.”

Bringing D.A.R.E. back will take a commitment from the Paris Police Department. Henness said the required two-week training course plus lodging and food will cost the department about $2,000.

Rogers said it is something he will consider proposing as the department returns to full strength.

The police side is only one part of the equation. Henness said D.A.R.E. requires a serious time commitment on the part of schools.

“It’s hard to find a hole to get that program in there,” said Henness.

His final piece of advice was it is not merely enough to say the D.A.R.E. programs needs to come back. There is also an important personnel matter.

“You need a uniformed police officer who has the heart of a teacher,” Henness said. “There are a lot of naysayers about D.A.R.E., but it’s the D.A.R.E. officer who makes the program.”

Neighborhood Watch representative Bob Sinclair’s attitude was ignore the statistics saying the effort is worth it if it keeps just one kid from abusing. He added getting the same message reinforced by multiple people like someone from HRC, the health department and law enforcement is a good thing.

Angie Hamilton from the CARE coalition also supported re-starting D.A.R.E. because of the relationships it fosters between students and a police officer who can be a mentor and someone they can turn to.

Jim Cooper noted the Elks Club is working with the Edgar County Sheriff’s Department to acquire material for a school program, but Sheriff Jeff Wood was quick to point out this is not D.A.R.E. Deputy Jacob Jenkins concurred, adding the program he is working to create has an anti-drug component but also covers other issues like bullying, and it is designed as a one-time presentation — not a multiple week lesson plan.

Jenkins spoke highly of D.A.R.E.

“I can tell you from my background, which was not good, D.A.R.E. was a good thing,” said Jenkins. “It created positive influences with the officers.”

Another item discussed was homelessness. All were surprised the warming shelter put together prior to Christmas when temperatures dropped below zero failed to attract users.

Paris Fire Chief Chad Crampton said only one person visited the shelter for food but did not stay.

“The people I was really worried about — one found shelter and the other is living as he wants to live,” said Crampton.

Based on that experience and other events, Graham said Paris may not have as many homeless people as once thought.

To get a better sense of the homeless situation in East Central Illinois, the Embarrass River Basin Agency (ERBA) is attempting a population count Jan. 25. People wanting to help with this project should contact Sandy Deters, sandyd@erbainc.org, for more information.