Darien Police Chief Ernest Brown is proposing an overhaul of an anti-drug program that has been a staple in schools in Darien and across the nation for years.
And he wants to keep the community informed as to why–and how–he thinks police department resources could be better used to help steer kids away from drugs and alcohol.
But Brown knows that change rarely comes without some controversy.
“I got emails [questioning the proposed changes to D.A.R.E.] from a few parents – and I responded immediately,” Brown said. “After I explained to them what the changes would be, they were supportive. We are not just eliminating D.A.R.E., but augmenting our drug prevention program.”
Brown said he began questioning the effectiveness of the nationwide D.A.R.E. program during his 28-year tenure with the Chicago Police Department.
“D.A.R.E. was under my purview then,” Brown said. “But it had become so politicized that it was hard to change. “I have serious questions about the efficacy of the D.A.R.E. program. From my perspective, community engagement should be a department-wide effort. It should be a philosophy, not a program.”
Brown’s said his doubts about the effectiveness of the D.A.R.E. program increased when he began reading studies by experts such as Dennis P. Rosenbaum, professor of criminal justice and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Rosenbaum’s paper, “Just Say No to D.A.R.E,” cites evidence showing D.A.R.E.’s ineffectiveness in preventing or changing drug-abusing behaviors among youth exposed to the program.
And although Brown thinks D.A.R.E. officer Nick Skweres has done a “yeoman’s job” with the program in Darien, he is convinced the department needs to create a “paradigm shift” in the area of youth and community engagement relating to drug- and alcohol abuse.
Other jurisdictions have already done away with D.A.R.E., Brown said, and his department is developing a unique strategy to replace the once-popular program. He envisions Darien’s anti drug- and alcohol efforts as community-wide and ongoing, rather than narrowly focused at the middle-school level over a short period of time.
“We want to work with institutions of higher learning to increase our efficacy over five to seven years,” Brown said. “Beyond D.A.R.E., evidence-based research has shown it’s important to have families involved. The D.A.R.E. program runs for one hour a week over six or eight weeks–that’s six hours total for a school year. We have an obligation to use police resources more effectively.”
To make his point, Brown cited the ineffectiveness of strategies formerly employed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and various anti-tobacco campaigns.
“Over time, MADD realized you can’t legislate behavior until you change the mindset, Brown said. “It’s the same with the tobacco industry. We have so much media coverage–and a culture that supports alcohol and tobacco abuse. We have to be consistent.”
“We are just starting the change,” Brown said. “We want to complete the obligations we have with D.A.R.E. this school year and plan to be online with the new program next year.”