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Destroying Families for the Glory of the Drug War, Part 1

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Few programs better symbolize the arrogance, propaganda, and political opportunism of the drug war than the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. DARE is the most popular antidrug education program in America. Labeled by the Chicago Tribune as “a darling of America’s drug war,” DARE is currently being taught by police officers to more than 5 million children in more than 250,000 classrooms each year.

DARE in operation sometimes resembles a religious crusade. As a Minneapolis Star Tribune article noted, “Schools in Minnesota fly the DARE flag. Students can buy DARE frisbees, wear a DARE wristwatch, or sing the official DARE song.” Students are also able to win or purchase DARE pencils, erasers, workbooks, and certificates of achievement. There are DARE bears, DARE jeeps driven by police, and DARE bumper stickers, and in Woodford County, Kentucky, a four-foot-tall DARE robot squirrel.

The heart and soul of DARE consists of policemen in the classroom as role models, trusted confidants, and wise men and women. As a report by a committee of concerned parents for the Ashfield-Sanfield School District in Massachusetts noted last June, “There is nothing new about police coming into schools to teach survival skills. What is new about DARE is police coming into schools to teach attitudes and mental health.” Among the topics the police seek to teach children are self-esteem, assertiveness, role modeling, forming support systems, decision making, and risk taking.

Considering the relatively high suicide rate among policemen, it is surprising that this profession is chosen to teach children about self-esteem. And considering the high rate in some cities of complaints of police misconduct based on assaults on innocent civilians, having police teach assertiveness may also be less than ideal.

President Clinton repeatedly invoked DARE during his reelection campaign. In a July 23 speech last year at a California high school, Clinton proclaimed:

“We can pass the Safe and Drug Free Schools bill and give more funds to more communities so everybody can have a DARE program . . . because they work and they really make a difference in children’s lives.”

However while DARE remains an ideal photo opportunity for politicians, it is crashing and burning in localities around the country:

*Oakland, California, ended its DARE program in 1994. Sheila Jordan, a city councilwoman, commented, “I felt like it was a very expensive program with very poor results.”

*The city manager of Tacoma, Washington, a few months ago, proposed pulling DARE officers out of schools and putting them back on patrols.

*Seattle police chief Norm Stamper recently proposed eliminating the quarter-million-dollar DARE program under his jurisdiction. Stamper concluded:

“We’re now beginning to recognize that this enormously popular and enormously expensive program has been from a statistical point of view an enormous failure.”

*Jefferson County, Kentucky, Sheriff Jim Vaughn ended his department’s DARE involvement because he believed DARE was not effective. Vaughn told the Louisville Courier-Journal : “I’ve been in a lot of drug raids. And I’ve seen a lot of DARE pamphlets and materials in the homes that were being raided.”

*The police department in Austin, Texas, in late August proposed dismantling the DARE program, in part because a city audit found that DARE had no positive effective on local juvenile drug crime. The Austin American Statesman recently reported:

“The city audit showed that the percentage of DARE students with drug-related offenses who ended up in Travis County Juvenile Court was 4.9%, compared with 3.1% of the study group that did not attend DARE. The percentage of DARE students with non-drug offenses . . . was 23.6%, compared with 18.6% for the non-DARE program.”

Clinton’s tub-thumping for DARE scorns research conclusions issued by his own Justice Department. The federal Bureau of Justice Assistance paid $300,000 to Research Triangle Institute, a North Carolina research firm, to conduct an analysis of the effectiveness of DARE. DARE was found to deter drug, alcohol, or tobacco use in only 3% of DARE trainees. The RTI researchers concluded that this was statistically insignificant. Researchers concluded:

“DARE’s limited influence on adolescent drug behavior contrasts with the program’s popularity and prevalence. An important implication is that DARE could be taking the place of other, more beneficial drug-use curricula.”

A 1993 study of fifth- and sixth-graders in Wisconsin, conducted by the University of Wisconsin, concluded that DARE-trained pupils actually had worse self-esteem and were more poorly educated on drug issues than comparable pupils who did not receive DARE training. “The DARE group failed to show improved decision-making skills, one of the major claims of the program,” the Associated Press reported.

Lloyd Johnson, a University of Michigan researcher in charge of a nationwide survey of adolescent drug use, observed: “I have to conclude DARE has had little or no effect except to give police officers something to do.” A 1996 University of Kentucky study compared thousands of students who took DARE classes and students who took other drug education classes and found no positive lasting effect from DARE training.

DARE America Executive Director Glenn Levant observes:

“Our detractors like to characterize DARE as an “Orwellian reality” or “Big Brother” at work. These bush league tactics are transparent for what they are: attempts to support various individual personal agendas at the expense of our children.”

Unfortunately, while Levant may like to portray criticism of DARE as stemming from the near-lunatic fringe, documented cases of DARE training leading to children’s informing against their parents proves otherwise. In the 1930s, the Soviet regime rewarded young children who betrayed to the authorities words of criticism their parents spoke about the great Stalin. As Robert Conquest noted in his classic history, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties , “Stalin’s idea of a good young Communist demanded . . . the qualities of an enthusiastic young nark.” While the Soviet Union is now on the junkheap of history, some police and public schools are using methods reminiscent of those used by Stalin in the American war on drugs and leaving a path of devastated families in the wake.

In the official DARE Implementation Guide, police officers are advised to be alert for signs of children who have relatives who use drugs. DARE officers are first and foremost police officers and thus are duty-bound to follow up leads that might come to their attention through inadvertent or indiscreet comments by young children.

After police win their trust, children sometimes confide to the police the names of people the children suspect are illegally using drugs. A mother and father in Caroline County, Maryland, were jailed for 30 days after their daughter informed a policeman who was providing a school antidrug program that her parents had marijuana plants in their home. The girl’s action was hailed by Caroline County State’s Attorney Christian Jensen: “The child set the example by standing up for her rights. This is the most extreme example of when parents fail their children and family.”

In 1991, 10-year-old Joaquin Herrera of Englewood, Colorado, phoned 911 and announced, “I’m a DARE kid,” and summoned police to his house to discover a couple ounces of marijuana hidden in a bookshelf. The boy sat outside his parents’ home in a police patrol car while the police searched the home and arrested the parents. The policeman assigned to the boy’s school publicly commended the boy’s action.

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    James Bovard serves as policy advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He has written for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader's Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of a new e-book memoir, Public Policy Hooligan. His other books include: Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book's Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.