TOPICS > Politics

Rethinking D.A.R.E.

April 25, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now a look at an anti-drug program that’s been tried out in many schools across the country. Rod Minott of KTCS-Seattle reports.

ROD MINOTT: For five years Dave Bales has taught an anti-drug class called D.A.R.E., the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program. His pupils are fifth and sixth-graders in Snohomish County, just north of Seattle.

CHILD: This is what our classmates bring you to say thank you for being a really good teacher for us.

ROD MINOTT: One of nine sheriff’s deputies assigned to D.A.R.E., Bales has presided over numerous D.A.R.E. graduation ceremonies like this one, an event that caps a 17-week course in which school kids learn how to avoid drugs.

BRITTNEY CARLSON, D.A.R.E. Graduate: D.A.R.E. is important because it teaches you to say no. I have learned how you are an honor roll student on one day and then someone says, “Hey, want to take drugs,” then you take them and “pow,” your life is ruined; you get addicted; and kicked off honor roll, and your life is a mess. So I vow never to take drugs. (applause)

ROD MINOTT: Despite such testimonials this was the last D.A.R.E. graduation for Lt. Bales in Totem Falls Elementary School. The county plans to drop the program at the end of the school year.

BOB DREWELL, Snohomish County Executive: While I hate doing it I continue to support the proposal to take D.A.R.E. officers out of the classroom and put them back on the street.

ROD MINOTT: County officials decided the nine D.A.R.E. officers and the $1/2 million a year spent on the program were needed to beef up police patrols. A handful of other communities in the Northwest and around the country also have begun re-evaluating D.A.R.E., the nation’s most popular anti-drug program. D.A.R.E. was created in 1983 by then Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates as part of the Reagan administration’s war on drugs.

OFFICER: What do you guys think the most dangerous drug is? Ah, yes, we’ve talked about this before.

ROD MINOTT: The program sends specially trained police officers into classrooms where they teach mostly elementary school kids about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. In some cases children have ended up informing on people by way of anonymous notes placed in a special question box.

OFFICER: Questions in the D.A.R.E. box. Would parents be able to volunteer to teach D.A.R.E.? Parents are the best drug education teachers there are.

ROD MINOTT: Huge federal subsidies have helped spread D.A.R.E. nationwide. Now the program is everywhere, in 75 percent of school districts and on T-shirts, balloons, bumper stickers, even garbage trucks. The merchandise and curriculum are marketed by a non-profit company based in Los Angeles. By some estimates it has grown into a $750 million a year program, most of that coming from federal, state, and local taxpayer money.

DAVID MOORE, Drug Education Expert: I think there are drug abuse programs that work and have really been shown to be effective.

ROD MINOTT: According to David Moore, a drug education expert, key to D.A.R.E.’s growth has been its aggressive marketing.

DAVID MOORE: Prevention programs that are selected by school districts tend to be the one that have the most public relations value for their school and also are marketed the most in their community. And those are the ones they select because it gives them a sense of security, a sense of something that’s working.

ROD MINOTT: The question is whether it does work or not. The chief of police in Seattle doesn’t think so.

CHIEF NORM STAMPER, Seattle Police: We dropped it because we were convinced that it wasn’t working.

ROD MINOTT: Chief Norm Stamper says he decided that the program, which costs the department $1/4 million a year, was not effective.

CHIEF NORM STAMPER: What we were discovering is I think what people know nationally, and that is teenage drug use has been up dramatically in this country. D.A.R.E. has been around now for a long time, and many of those graduates of the D.A.R.E. program are precisely the same kids who are choosing to take the so-called threshold drugs, the drugs that the D.A.R.E. program examines and attempts to discourage kids from taking.

ROD MINOTT: Lt. Bales argues it’s unrealistic to expect D.A.R.E. to solve the entire drug problem.

LT. DAVE BALES, Snohomish County Sheriff: Has it helped some kids stay off of drugs that might have otherwise? Yes, I believe that. I know of success stories. On a large scale basis does the program by itself prevent drug abuse? I don’t believe, no, I don’t believe it can. It wasn’t intended to. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.

ROD MINOTT: Numerous studies have shown conflicting answers over whether D.A.R.E. actually works in reducing drug use among adolescents. One of the most controversial was this 1994 report funded by the Justice Department. It analyzed eight D.A.R.E. studies and concluded that the program had a limited to essentially non-existent effect on drug use.

OFFICER: Ladies and gentlemen, up front, a consequence of using marijuana.

ROD MINOTT: D.A.R.E. advocates have called other critical studies flawed because they’re based on an old curriculum.

CHILD: You can get sick.

ROD MINOTT: They say the new curriculum is more interactive and goes from kindergarten through twelfth grade. But critics remain skeptical of the changes and whether they will make any significant difference. And so far, no long-term studies have been done to determine how well the new lessons work.

BARRY McCAFFREY, National Drug Policy Director: Triple the increase in the use of drugs by eighth-graders in the last five years; we’ve got a problem.

ROD MINOTT: The nation’s drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, remains a big fan of D.A.R.E..

BARRY McCAFFREY: If you have active drug mentoring of children, then drug abuse will go down significantly, and D.A.R.E. can be an important part of that. Most parents like it; the kids like it; and it also tends to, I would suggest, glue together these high integrity law enforcement officers we have and children in America. So I think there’s a corollary benefit to it.

ROD MINOTT: For Lt. Bales that corollary benefit is very important.

LT. DAVE BALES: The interaction between not just the students and the law enforcement officer but the entire family, the entire community, and law enforcement is changed, and building community between law enforcement and the public they serve makes us far more effective. It builds a level of trust. Those are things that aren’t measured in D.A.R.E. studies.

ROD MINOTT: But some parents in rural Friday Harbor, Northwest of Seattle, wonder whether police officers make the best teachers. Andrew Seltser heads a group of parents who have been pressuring school officials to drop the D.A.R.E. program.

ANDREW SELTSER, “Parents Against D.A.R.E.”: It’s great PR for the police departments, but as far as getting kids to stay off drugs, it doesn’t work. The drug problem is a public health problem, so we should have public health officials teaching this. We should have doctors, drug counselors, people who are in the business of health, because that’s where the concern is.

ROD MINOTT: The battle over D.A.R.E. in Friday Harbor has been bitter and divisive. Opponents were accused of wanting to legalize drugs for kids.

OFFICER: How many people in their homes have alcohol in their house? I’ll raise my hand. I have alcohol in my house.

ROD MINOTT: While supporters were accused of encouraging children to use D.A.R.E. to snitch on their parents’ lifestyles. Eventually, “Parents Against D.A.R.E.” convinced Superintendent Steve Enoch and school board members to modify the curriculum.

STEVE ENOCH, School Superintendent: As we look at the D.A.R.E. program we think what its mission is, and its message is good. There certainly is room for improvement. And that’s one of the reasons that we think we can improve the program by expanding it to include mental health care providers and other alcohol and drug counselors who will be augmenting the existing program.

ROD MINOTT: There have been other criticisms of D.A.R.E. as well. Chief Stamper dislikes its focus on teaching kids they need to make choices about drugs.

CHIEF NORM STAMPER: This notion that once again a highly symbolic figure of authority is telling a fifth grade class that you have choices to make. And when the time comes to resist, you know, the joint, when the time comes to resist somebody offering you cocaine, you have a choice to make in that moment. I think–I think that’s the wrong message. I think the right message is–and I don’t want to oversimplify it–I think there was much that was wrong with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No,” but there’s something really wrong with a police officer saying you have a choice because you really don’t.

ROD MINOTT: Stamper particularly doesn’t like the skits that show students how to handle drug offers.

SPOKESMAN: Lights, camera, action.

ROD MINOTT: Bales thinks that training kids how to handle those moments is essential.

LT. DAVE BALES: I’m not trying to teach the kids about drug abuse. I’m trying to teach the kids about making choices. And drug abuse is just one of the choices that they have to face when they go through their teenage years and on into adulthood.

OFFICER: Hanging around with a group of non-users, why does that work?

STUDENT: Like if you know there’s a drug house or a party going on, you know there’s going to be drinking and drugs and stuff. You don’t go there.

LT. DAVE BALES: If kids leave D.A.R.E. with nothing else, what I want them to be able to do is look at the situation and think what’s going to happen if I choose to do this, what’s going to happen if I don’t? If I can get them to do something more than that, most of those kids are going to stay safe.

ROD MINOTT: As Snohomish County’s D.A.R.E. program comes to an end other cities like New York and Washington, D.C., continue to add D.A.R.E. to their schools. In addition, President Clinton is proposing a $64 million increase in funding for school anti-drug programs.

SPOKESMAN: Give me a “D.”


SPOKESMAN: Give me an “A.”


SPOKESMAN: Give me an “R.”


SPOKESMAN: Give me an “E.”


SPOKESMAN: (shouting) What’s that spell?

KIDS: (shouting) D.A.R.E..

SPOKESMAN: What’s that spell?


ROD MINOTT: Even though D.A.R.E. has lost a few school districts recently, the odds are good that it will get a hefty percentage of that new funding.