busted: america's war on marijuana
FRONTLINE Interview with Bret and  Lee Ann Richardson, DARE officers in the Warsaw, Indiana police department. Interview conducted in the winter of 1997-98.
INTERVIEWER

How much of your time as a police officer is now taken up with D.A.R.E.?

BRETT RICHARDSON

I'm a full-time D.A.R.E. instructor, so during the school year my sole responsibility is being at one of my schools. I have five school--that means I'm at one school every day of the week, 8-4. The chief that we have, currently, is very supportive of the D.A.R.E. program, believes in it and that's why we have three full-time instructors.

INTERVIEWER

How big is the force? How many officers do you have?

BRETT RICHARDSON

Thirty-five sworn officers and three of them are D.A.R.E. officers.

INTERVIEWER

Are all three of you full-time with D.A.R.E.?

BRETT RICHARDSON

Yes. Two of us do the elementary schools and then Leann does the two middle schools and high school level.

INTERVIEWER

There are some people who would say that you sort of are encouraging kids to spy on their family, parents. What's your answer to them?

BRETT RICHARDSON

No, we don't encourage the kids to spy. I don't care. I don't want to know. If they don't want to tell me, I don't want to know. That's not my role. I'm there as an instructor, not as an enforcement officer. I would just as soon not know about who's doing the marijuana in the home. I'm there for the child. I'm another resource.

I want to be a positive role model. I'm drug-free. I tell them that. I don't use alcohol, I don't use tobacco, I don't use any illegal substance. Two weeks ago, we did random drug testing at the police department, second time now my name's come up. I walked in here at the police station, the chief walked past me said, "Brett, go out to MedStat, your name came up." So I went out, did my drug test. I tell the kids that was fine with me, I didn't have anything to hide. I'm there as an instructor. I'm not there to gather information. I don't encourage the kids to tell. It's by their choice if they want to come to me and tell me, "Mom or dad's using drugs, what do I do?" or "I'm really scared because my dad smokes." Those are the kind of issues we deal with.

LEANN RICHARDSON

I think that's a sore subject with us, especially with the D.A.R.E. program, because we don't go in and teach these kids, "This is how to do surveillance on your parents," or "This is what we want you to look for." It's not that type of a curriculum. It's a prevention curriculum that we go in and we teach these kids life skills, we teach them how to be safe, we teach them how to live a healthy lifestyle, drug-free. And it has nothing in the curriculum about turning people in or doing anything that way.

If a child, for some reason, feels uncomfortable about the home environment, about something that's happening in their life, that's where we are and in our relationship with them, as one more person for these kids to come over and talk to, not as an undercover officer, or even as a police officer. We go in there without a gun belt, as a human resource for these kids, as someone who really cares about these kids.

INTERVIEWER

You're trying to create kind of non-drug culture to compete with the drug culture.

BRETT RICHARDSON

We want to encourage them to not use drugs, because of the health effects, and then the effects it has on society. Taxpayers are upset with all the taxes we're paying. It doesn't make me happy as a taxpayer to hire more police officers, build bigger jails, build more courts, hire more judges--that costs me money. So if we can reduce overall criminality, not only drugs, but reduce vandalism, reduce theft, shoplifting, all those issues, then we're helping society. And as a police officer I see that as my role. I'm here to help people and to reduce crime.

INTERVIEWER

But you're trying to paint a picture of marijuana that competes with another picture that you'd be getting from peer pressure.

LEANN RICHARDSON

With marijuana, we want to teach them the facts. We want it to be their decision, and their choice to never use. We believe if they know the facts about drugs, whether it's marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, or any other drugs, if they know the facts, they can make a logical choice for their own lives. And that's what we're wanting to do.

INTERVIEWER

Do you think it's possible, though, to create a non-drug culture, especially with something like marijuana. Do you think you can create a world where there's no marijuana use?

LEANN RICHARDSON

The only way we're going to work on the war against drugs, or win the war on drugs, is to reduce the demand. And we're trying to reduce the demand through education, and that's why we got involved in the D.A.R.E. program. We wanted to be a part of the kids' lives, to help them to make good choices and learn how to resist peer pressure.

BRETT RICHARDSON

They warned me, when I went to the Illinois State Police Academy for my D.A.R.E. training, that you're going to go into that classroom with the belief that you'll save all those children. That all of your D.A.R.E. students will always remain 100% drug-free, and for the first years that's the way I felt. I wanted all of my students, every one of those children, to never use drugs.

Nine years later, I'm a little more realistic in my thinking. But my desire is still for every one of my D.A.R.E. students to be 100% drug-free. The reason I feel that way is because I know what drugs do to the body. Through my education of learning about the drugs, learning about marijuana, what effects it has on the human body, what it's going to do to them, knowing that it burns hotter than tobacco, knowing that it has all kinds of chemicals in it, the THC level is higher now. Knowing all of that and then educating them of the dangers of putting that into their bodies, and what the future could hold for them then, having done that to themselves. Then I want them to make the choice, but I want them to see through education.

INTERVIEWER

Do you ever feel like there is sort of two different sides of America with regard to drugs?

BRETT RICHARDSON

Well, Warsaw is a really conservative community, so you're not going to find many people willing to be outspoken in support of marijuana use in our community. There are people out there, I'm sure, that would favor legalization, and they use it everyday, and they say, "Look at me and I'm fine," and so on.

But being a conservative community as we are, you're not going to find them to be outspoken, we don't go up against any adversaries publicly. We know it's there when you have a sixth-grader come up to you and tell you that mom and dad smoke it all the time. That's apparently acceptable in that family for those parents. Yes, I'm sure we've got both sides, the mirror right there, but hopefully we've got the kids seeing it from our side understanding the dangers of that drug.

INTERVIEWER

What do you think of the sentencing for this kid's parents when they get busted? Do you think that sentences for marijuana growing are adequate? Too severe? Not severe enough?

BRETT RICHARDSON

I don't know that jail time is going to change anything in that person's life. I, of course, do not put mom or dad smoking marijuana at the same level of someone going out and killing somebody or raping someone. So the punishment shouldn't be the same.

But then I've seen video tapes of police officers killed in the line of duty because they stopped a car that has marijuana in it and the people don't want to be arrested, I have mixed emotions about the punishment level. If you're using marijuana, then you're supporting that behavior of people shooting cops.

So, my approach goes right along with the D.A.R.E.'s belief--we can attack the demand side of it, reduce the demand. It's like any product--you make the product and nobody wants to buy it, you're gonna quit trying to sell it. We do have to punish people who break the law. There has to be some form of punishment. If that means big fines and taking money out of their pocket, do it that way. Some jail time, absolutely. They need to know there are going to be consequences to their choice of using that drug. Lock them away for twenty years? Probably not, but there should be some jail time and definitely some fines.

INTERVIEWER

I've heard of people getting life sentences for growing.

LEANN RICHARDSON

Well, as far as what each person gets, it's going to be based on what they have done in regards to marijuana, whether they've grown it or sold it or used it or possessed it. It's illegal for anybody to be involved with marijuana in any way. And as far as the fines or the amount of jail time each person gets, it's going to vary with each separate case. I would hope that the judge would do the right thing, but that's not up to us and we're pretty much law enforcement so we can just do our job to try to get it off the street and educate the kids and leave the other part up to the judges and the people that are in the legislative branch of the government to make the laws that hopefully are right.

INTERVIEWER

I'm sensing that you do have some questions about the degree of sentencing sometimes.

BRETT RICHARDSON

As a police officer, we go out there and we enforce the law, we do the paperwork, we take the time and then, to not see it follow through, then the justice system becomes frustrating for a police officer.

We want punishment. As a police officer, and I think most police officers feel this way or we wouldn't see police officers, we see there are reasons for laws and why have laws if you break it there's no punishment? In fact, that's not my area of expertise. I'm not in that part of it, I just cope with what the judges and the juries and the attorneys work out.

 

 
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