UPDATE: St. Mary’s Sheriff to Put DARE Back in Schools
St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron announced last week that he will make good on his campaign promise to return the nation’s most popular drug education program to the public school system this fall. Cameron ( R) defeated incumbent David D. Zylak in November, based in large part on his promise to return the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, known as DARE, to county schools. Zylak had been widely criticized for eliminating it in 2004.
When the Board of County Commissioners approved its 2008 budget Tuesday in advance of a public hearing next month, it allocated a $ 3.5 million increase to the sheriff’s office. A large part of that money will fund the hiring of four deputies, one of whom will become a second middle school resource officer and drug education teacher.
“ These are very real and tangible results of receiving more money,” Cameron said after the budget was approved. “ We did very well as an agency in this budget. I think it’s important, and the citizens told me they wanted it in the schools, so it’s coming back.”
But questions about the effectiveness of DARE — the same questions that led Zylak to cut the program out of a tight budget — persist. Several studies from government organizations and research universities have concluded that young adults who graduate from the DARE program are no less likely to use drugs than counterparts who do not.
“ Numerous well- designed evaluations and meta- analyses ... consistently show [ DARE has] little or no deterrent effects on substance use,” the U. S. surgeon general’s office wrote in 2001.
Several parents of elementary and middle school students disagree, saying that such research does not take into account the potentially life- changing effects that the “ Just Say No” message can have on students in a county with a growing drug problem.
The sheriff’s office recorded 689 drug- related arrests in 2005, up from 514 two years earlier. Three of the deputies whose positions were approved in next year’s budget will join the narcotics team.
“ It’s easy to see the drugs are getting more common on the streets and in the schools,” said Charlene Greenwell, who has three children in St. Mary’s schools. “ Of course the kids should be hearing from the police about the negative effects.”
In his campaign last year, St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron vowed to reinstate the DARE program in schools. His predecessor, David D. Zylak, had eliminated it because of questions about its effectiveness.