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Rocky’s stand on DARE

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As this page has said before, it is Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson's prerogative to review existing programs to ensure taxpayers are getting the best bang for the buck.

After an examination of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program offered in Salt Lake City schools, Anderson has deemed the program ineffective. As such, he is cutting off funding and will cease to provide police officers for DARE beginning this fall. Acting Police Chief Mac Cannole said he supports Anderson's decision, which was decried by PTA presidents, educators and even some students.

While the decision was not popular, Anderson appears to be on solid ground. At best, the research on DARE is mixed. While it is true that some of the benefits of engaging schoolchildren in positive contact with police officers produces benefits that cannot be assessed though social science research, continued support of this program demands that a preponderance of data document its effectiveness. According to Anderson's reading of the research, DARE is not the answer.

While the emotional attachment to this program and the officers who have taught Salt Lake schoolchildren about the dangers of drug use is understandable, the mayor and the City Council are accountable for the city's budget. The city spends about $289,000 a year to fund four DARE officers, their cars and equipment. In Anderson's eyes, the human capital could be better used elsewhere in the police department. There is certainly merit to bolstering the resources of the police department, particularly if it means more resource officers in schools.

Seemingly, part of the grumbling about the DARE decision was Anderson's handling of the matter. Some educators felt slighted that the mayor did not consult them about their perceptions of the program. Since this is a program offered in public schools, there is credence to their concern.

In making this decision, Anderson places the responsibility of drug education and resiliency education solely in the hands of the Salt Lake City School District. Because of the timing of this decision, district officials will be hard pressed to approve and activate a program for the upcoming school year. The most logical step would be to rely on the statewide Prevention Dimensions program already in place in Salt Lake schools until a replacement for DARE can be selected.

Just as educators were critical of Anderson for not soliciting their input about DARE, the school community needs now to reach out to its constituency in selecting a new substance abuse prevention and education program.

Anderson's decision should not be construed as a message that these programs are unimportant. It is, rather, a directive that Salt Lake schoolchildren are so important that they deserve a program proven to work.