The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program is essentially a model of community policing, or an ongoing effort on the parts of communities cooperating with the police to instruct children as to the realities of drug usage. Begun in 1983 in Los Angeles, D.A.R.E. is today represented in over 75 percent of all U.S. schools, as well as in 43 other nations (D.A.R.E., 2012). The guiding ideology is basic: that, while children exhibit user accountability and powers of choice, they are as well highly subject to external influences when they make these choices. Educating them through the presence of police officers, then, is seen as a means of providing necessary knowledge, and knowledge emanating from a source of relevant authority (Orcutt, Rudy, 2003, p. 111). It is firmly believed by the organization that this sort of interactive relationship, in which young students become acquainted with the realities of drug abuse, will effectively discourage them from drug experimentation. Linked to this is the goal of creating a bond between the authority of the police and the students.
To that end, D.A.R.E. operates on a multi-platform basis. The full curriculum is set at 80 hours, and is designed tro begin in the elemtary school years. Sessions held in elementary school, mainly created to develop trust between children and the police, and to present basics of drug, alcohol, and cigarette usage, are then reinforced by those held in middle school and junior high classes (Orcutt, Rudy, 2003, p. 111). Police officers conducting D.A.R.E. Sessions must undergo specific training for two weeks, and the relationship between the school and the police must be confirmed by a written commitment from the Chief of Police. Consequently, D.A.R.E., the school, and the police then work in concert, as the materials for the sessions are provided by the organization. Most expenses are covered by D.A.R.E., or in the form of grants obtained by the school (D.A.R.E., 2012).
The widespread presence of D.A.R.E., fueled by the same commitment that inspired its origins, is nonetheless subject to increasing debate. In plain terms, there is a significant body of evidence supporting that D.A.R.E. is at best minimally effective in reducing student experimentation or involvement with illegal drugs. Those within the organization consistently affirm that, as D.A.R.E. brings students and police in contact, levels of trust are established, the police are “humanized” in the minds of the students, and the students receive factual information which discourages their turning to drugs (Birkland, 2011, p. 18). Multiple studies, however, reveal to an equally consistent degree that the program has no significant effect. A national review conducted in 2001 led to the U.S. Surgeon General placing D.A.R.E. among those drug prevention initiatives classified as, “Does Not Work.” Another study conducted two years later by the U.S. Government Accountability Office reviewed the existing research and affirmed the earlier report, claiming that there has been no difference in drug usage between schools engaged in D.A.R.E. and those not employing the program. The American Journal of Public Health later conducted a study using the most rigorous data methods, and the results were the same; the program, particularly measured over time, revealed no effects in dissuading students from using drugs (Birkland, 2011, p. 18).
All of this research indicating the failure of D.A.R.E., while generating federal budget cuts for the program, has generated greater resistance from the program and its supporters. On one level, the reports have been acknowledged by the organization in terms of revising its curriculum.
The new approaches focus more on scientific fact and the latest research regarding drugs and their connections to health and to crime, but there is as yet no definitive study noting the results of the changes. Meanwhile, and despite the widely known ineffectiveness of D.A.R.E., support nationally remains strong, primarily because the psychology motivating the program is so appealing to parents and communities (Birkland, 2011, p. 19). Nonetheless, the organization appears to suffer from investigations uncovering structural flaws. A major design issue is that the mandatory nature of the program has not been adequately researched, and this likely goes to the students’ initial receptivity to it. Resistance from students has been documented, as has been the outcome of increased alienation to the required education (Orcutt, Rudy, 2001, p. 111). Given the massive support still in place for D.A.R.E., an overview of its history presents an interesting, if not remarkable, pattern; namely, that parents, schools, and communities enthusiastically support the organization, but that those students interested in it are those students least likely to become involved with drugs at all.
Birkland, T. A. (2011). Introduction to the Policy Process, 3rd Ed.. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.
Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.). (2012). About D.A.R.E. Retrieved from http://www.dare.com/home/about_dare.asp
Orcutt, J. D., & Rudy, D. R. (2003). Drugs, Alcohol, and Social Problems. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.