It was a beautiful day for Goleta’s Brandon school’s fifth and sixth graders as they celebrated the first South County DARE graduation in five years.
Anybody who went to public elementary school after the program’s launch in 1983 would remember DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) – the officer who came in once a week, the coloring books, the black and red T-shirts, and, of course, the graduation ceremony. However, this hadn’t happened in Santa Barbara for some time until Thursday’s event at Brandon School. According to Chief Deputy Geoffrey P. Banks, “[DARE] was stopped due to budget cuts in 2004 : There was concern about outcome-based issues, but Sheriff Brown decided to bring the DARE program back as we’re coming out of a low staffing period,” he said. “There has been criticism.”
One such critic is Santa Barbara County’s previous sheriff, Jim Anderson, who held the position at the time the DARE program was cut. “DARE was not a scientifically based program. It was created by cops,” Anderson said. “Budget cuts had taken place, and, in the interim, we studied other programs proven to be more effective.” He is not alone in his skepticism of the program. In August 1999, the American Psychological Association published an article in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology that detailed a study in which researchers followed up with DARE participants 10 years after they completed the program. The researches found that “there were no effects in actual drug use initially or during the follow-up period.”
In spite of criticism, Banks said that the DARE program’s influence extends beyond the limitations alleged in the study and mere education about the dangers of narcotics. “It allows deputies and school staff to work together on all sorts of issues – self esteem and gang prevention,” he said, “and it allows deputies and students to talk together in a positive way.”
Brown reiterated this point at the graduation ceremony, after posing for photos with many of the young graduates. “I really believe in the DARE program,” he said. “It develops a relationship that is mutually positive for young people and the deputies, who often work with people in negative environments : I’m very pleased to see it back in South County.”