By Carmen Scruggs
Clinton Chronicle staff writer
Substance abuse among teenagers has increased over recent years, with growing trends in marijuana, nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. In 2012, nearly 15 percent of 12th graders reported using prescription drugs as nonmedical, according to the National Institute on Drug Reports.
The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) program helps teach K-12th graders about drugs and how to make the right decisions to help keep substance abuse trends down. More than 75,000 law enforcement officers and deputies have been certified to teach the program in the United States.
The D.A.R.E program in Michigan is dealing with less funding for officers to visit schools for the educational program..
Audrey Martini, D.A.R.E Michigan State Training Center Coordinator, said the number of certified D.A.R.E officers in Michigan is falling.
“D.A.R.E is usually funded through a combination of the police department and the schools, since there is a cost for the officers’ time,” said Martini.
“The economic situation is that both the schools and the police departments have been losing resources, so one or the other or both have decided that they just do not have the resources to fund D.A.R.E officers like we used to.”
D.A.R.E America is helped funded through corporate sponsors, like K-Mart and M&M Watkins. Retail sales organizations also help with the funding, therefore, D.A.R.E America does not ask citizens for donations. The D.A.R.E American program also provides direct and indirect support to local D.A.R.E programs.
Martini said because funding has decreased in Michigan, some schools include D.A.R.E lessons and education, but trained officers do not physically come in to give lessons.
Martini said that in order for an officer to be trained, he or she must have spent at least three years on the job and spend 80 hours at a D.A.R.E Officers Training School (D.O.T). She said a D.O.T has not been offered in Michigan since 2008, so officers must go out of state for training, usually to Ohio or Indiana.
“Officers spend 80 hours learning how elementary or middle schoolers learn, grow and how their brain functions at that age,” said Martini.
Officers become certified after they learn all nine lessons a part of the program, facilitate a lesson in front of the class and pass a final exam.
Clinton County has two trained officers of its own and just sent a third officer out of state to be trained.
Clinton County Deputy Sharon Worthington said that all elementary schools in Clinton County participate in the D.A.R.E program. Thirteen of the schools teach to fifth graders and three schools to seventh graders. Worthington said the program is important in the community.
“A main focus is making smart, safe decisions concerning risky behaviors,” said Worthington. “I believe the more kids hear the information and from different people it will help them.”
Clinton County resident Mitchell Raeck said he remembered officers teaching smart decision making when he was in 5th grade at Herbison Woods Middle School.
“We had an old, friendly cop that everyone liked, come into our classroom fully uniformed, that would tell us about substance abuse and how-to-say-no techniques,” said Raeck. “He also talked about gangs and not to join them.”
Raeck said that learning how to make the correct decisions at a young age was beneficial to him.
A better sense of security and the feeling of a safer community are two of the benefits from the program, said Worthington.
“The kids in the schools realize that police officers can be your friend and be helpful and not to be afraid of them,” added Worthington. “The officers get to know the schools, teachers, kids, and support staff; in a crisis situation the officers are better able to deal with problems that arise.”
Martini, who was a Detroit cop for 18 years, said that research also backs up the benefits of the program.
“When the tobacco company Reynolds funded a research project with D.A.R.E. that went out with a lot of different programs that taught health education in schools, they determined that the D.A.R.E. program that brought the officer into the school setting to interact with students was by far in a way the best delivery system of any that they looked at,” said Martini.
Martini added that from personal experience working as cop, she noticed that it was important for youth and the community to see officers in a positive light and not solely as someone that has the power to arrest a person.
“Bringing in the Officer Joe or the talking puppets or whatever that got the police officer into the classroom so that the kids could see them as a person and not the individual that could take them to jail is to me the best thing that could happen,” said Martini.
“If we’re going to have a safe community, the community and the police are going to have to work together.”