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Doing away with DARE

Anti-drug program losing favor in Lake County

Published: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 7:17 a.m. CDT

FOX LAKE – Fox Lake police Lt. Mark Schindler, who used to warn kids about drugs as a DARE instructor, has seen some of those same students as adults – arrested for drug and alcohol charges.

But it's not all bad. He has come across others in different settings.

"A couple have thanked me and told me that I helped them be where they are today," the officer said.

On balance, though, he said he couldn't say how effective DARE is.

Years ago, the Fox Lake Police Department eliminated the program, officially known as Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

"It was one of the unfortunate casualties of budget cuts," he said. "It didn't cost a tremendous amount of money to fund the program as far as classroom materials. It took the expense of the officer, and the expense got to be a little too much."

Especially when the department had fewer officers. Four were laid off several years ago, Schindler said.

"That effectively took a DARE officer out of the investigation section and put him out on the road," he said.

Fox Lake is not alone in doing away with DARE, a national program known as Drug Abuse Resistance Education, in which officers go into fifth-grade classrooms.

About 10 years ago, Round Lake Beach ended its program.

"That was at the schools' request. They wanted to get time back for classes," Police Chief Dave Hare said.

He said he didn't have an opinion on DARE.

"There is no way to measure it – the impact of an officer on kids' lives. There is a huge impact on some kids, none on others," he said, adding that he believes it's important for officers, in some way, to have a presence in schools.

Round Lake Park, which started its program in 1990, has ended it. The village's website still touts the program and includes 2009 photos of an officer presenting awards to students.

"The goal is to inform students and help them to be better prepared to resist the pitfalls that they may encounter during their adolescent years," the website says.

In March, during Grayslake's annual budget meeting, Police Chief Phillip Perlini recommended to the board that the village eliminate the DARE program, which he said was becoming increasingly ineffective. Most departments, he said, have already done so.

Without DARE, Grayslake could devote officers' time to more effective efforts, such as the explorer program, in-class presentations on specific topics and greater work at the high school level.

Village board members discussed the recommendation and directed village staff to conduct the program for another year and then develop a strategy for winding it down.

The chief didn't return calls for comment.

Scott Gilliam, DARE's national director of training, said if the chief is saying DARE is ineffective, "he is so off base."

"The only [bad] evaluation that came out was 17 years ago. The author of that study is now on our scientific panel," he said. "Sometimes chiefs like to get their own curriculum in schools, but there is no program that is as cost-effective as DARE. Every DARE officer can tell you a success story on how it has affected a kid. They are thanked years later."

But DARE has had less of a presence in schools across the country in recent years.

"We're seeing budgets hurting the DARE program," Gilliam said. "It's not about the DARE program. Are you going to cut service to the people or cut DARE? DARE is second."

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