D.A.R.E. program likely to end Mercer Island drug and alcohol resistance program said to be statistically ineffective

The Island’s D.A.R.E. program is facing a dead-end street. City leaders are thinking about abandoning the decades-old program that statistically has failed to prevent alcohol and drug abuse among Island teens.

Former D.A.R.E. Officer Jennifer Franklin recently became the city’s new emergency preparedness director, and City Manager Rich Conrad is not planning to replace her with another police officer. Conrad told City Council members last week that he does not plan on recommending continued funding for the program. A presentation of Conrad’s preliminary budget is scheduled for the next Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 6, when the city’s two-year budget is proposed.

Loss of funding would end the position and the program. Mercer Island was the first city in Washington to adopt the D.A.R.E. program in 1985. Franklin served during the past six years and was very popular, graduating about 2,000 youth from the program at the end of each school year. The program begins with kindergartners and lasts through the sixth grade. Officers typically rotate in and out of the position every five years.

Community support for the program has not waned in recent years, as the annual spaghetti dinner fundraiser put on by the local Masons and VFW has remained successful. They raised over $2,000 earlier this year. Yet, D.A.R.E. has been widely criticized as ineffective, and several local governments across the nation have dropped the program. Seattle decided to drop D.A.R.E. in 1997.

According to data presented by the director of the city’s Youth and Family services, Cyndy Goodwin, over half of high school seniors reported — when they took a survey last year — that they had drunk alcohol in the past 30 days. City Councilmember Dan Grausz expressed his dissatisfaction with the program’s lack of effectiveness during a recent Council meeting.

“Looking at these statistics suggests that D.A.R.E. and other preventative programs we have used have been a failure,” said Grausz. “Nothing in these statistics suggests there is anything we should be feeling good about.”

In 2003, the federal government’s accountability office completed a study that showed D.A.R.E. had no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use. Supporters, however, have insisted that communities should continue the program, as it has deferred children from drugs.

Former Mercer Island Police Chief Jan Deveny supported the program in the past with his “common sense” test. Deveny stated that teaching children about drugs and violence worked.

Despite the troubling numbers, Goodwin said there were two successful aspects of the program that need to be continued on the Island.

“The good things D.A.R.E. did involved raising self esteem and building a relationship with our [police] officers. And we know that it’s the social norms in families that lead to drug use, so to have one officer take all that on is a lot.”

D.A.R.E. was founded in 1983 and proponents claim its success can be seen through its implementation. About 35 million children are in D.A.R.E. programs every year worldwide and in more than 43 countries.

The city is in its second year of a pilot prevention program called Communities That Care. If it proves to be successful, that program could permanently replace D.A.R.E.

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