Dropping the DARE program from the city of Spokane’s budget won’t be easy.
The mom-and-apple pie program aimed at keeping kids away from drugs and alcohol didn’t make its way into the 1996 spending plan proposed last week by City Manager Roger Crum.
Crum and police administrators want to drop the program after June 30 in favor of putting more cops on the street.
Despite several studies questioning the effectiveness of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, its supporters are passionate.
Parents proudly display DARE stickers on car bumpers. Students wear caps and T-shirts proclaiming “DARE to keep kids off drugs.” Even an STA bus is painted DARE black and red.
Nevertheless, Police Chief Terry Mangan said in a meeting Friday that the department is standing by its plan to cut the program, according to Sgt. Mike Prim, Spokane’s DARE administrator.
After the meeting, Prim seemed resigned to the inevitability of the program’s end. He acknowledged, however, that the issue could still become a political hot potato for the City Council.
Earlier in the week, he said he was hoping for a groundswell of public support for DARE. “We’re hoping that the cut doesn’t happen,” he said. “The community is not happy about the proposed cut.”
County commissioners tried walking the path to a DARE budget cut two years ago - only to be turned back by well-organized and angry supporters praising the program.
“It’s going to be a very political decision,” said Assistant Police Chief Dave Peffer. “I’m sure the council is going to get all sorts of advice.”
The city’s sliding revenues forced serious cuts in the 1996 budget. The police department was asked to chop at least $1 million from its 1996 spending plan, Peffer said.
“We had to prioritize,” he said.
The assistant chief has nothing but praise for DARE, adding that “doubts about the program’s effectiveness are not driving this cut.”
Instead, it’s a harsh choice pitting cops on the street against cops in the classroom, he said. DARE costs city taxpayers about $550,000 a year.
“It’s very expensive,” Peffer said. “Providing emergency response services is the No. 1 priority.”
Dismantling DARE would put seven police officers back into regular duty, Peffer said. Those cops would replace officers who have left the department.
“We’ve got to find a way to do the same thing for a lesser amount of money,” said City Manager Crum.
With that in mind, police already are working with school administrators to design a similar program that uses school employees and some police on a less frequent basis. Those officers still would be available for routine calls.
“We need to take the message of DARE, but use non-police people to deliver that message,” Peffer said.
DARE puts police officers in sixth-grade classrooms, teaching students the consequences of drug use and ways to improve their self-esteem.
At the end of 17 weeks, the students don black DARE T-shirts and assemble in the school gym for a graduation ceremony where they pledge never to use drugs or alcohol.
Several national studies have questioned the program’s effectiveness, saying it has limited effect in stopping drug use. In fact, those studies say, kids forget about the program within a few years of DARE graduation.
DARE administrator Prim says he has a file full of studies saying just the opposite, adding he doubts the results of the critical studies for several reasons.
First of all, the program started in Los Angeles in 1983 is still new, Prim said. Early graduates may just now be mature enough to understand the message they learned years before.
Secondly, “DARE was never designed or intended to solve the community’s drug program,” Prim said.
The question is not whether someone ever “uses or abuses drugs,” Prim said, “but whether this curriculum is the most effective way to teach people to make good decisions about use and abuse later on in life.”
Research that measures attitudes about drugs and DARE, rather than actual resistance to drugs, shows that DARE has a positive impact, he said.
There are other intangible payoffs, such as the positive relationships formed between police and students, Prim said.
Public hearings about proposed city budget cuts begin Dec. 4.
Prim said he expects DARE advocates to swarm council chambers. “We’re hoping the community can persuade the council and mayor not to do this,” he said.
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