You Decide

Is DARE a “good” drug prevention program?

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program started in 1983, when the Los Angeles Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles United School District set it up in 50 Los Angeles elementary schools. By 1994, DARE had spread to every state (4,700 communities) and six foreign countries. I’m sure many of you have gone through the program; most of my students have but here’s a brief description. Specially trained uniformed officers go to fifth-and sixth-grade classrooms to give 17 highly structured lessons intended to help children learn how to resist drugs. (Table 5.1)

Table 5.1

DARE lessons

[pick up CJ5e, Table 6.4, p. 165]

Officers are taught how to change their “hardened street ways” into “caring teaching skills.” Officer Harreld D. Webster, a DARE mentor, puts it this way: “We assist them to remove the macho image and become teachers.” Webster said DARE, once ridiculed by officers as “kiddie cops,” has gained respect. (Rheinhold 1989)

Does it work?

The results of evaluations are mixed. The University of Illinois surveyed 1,800 sixth and seventh graders. DARE graduates tended to view drugs more negatively and the police more positively than those who did not participate in DARE. On the other hand, a study of 3,000 students in Kentucky found “no really compelling evidence” that DARE works. Use of marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco among DARE graduates was about the same as among other students. (Pereira 1992; Donohew, Sypher, and Bukoski 1991)

Dennis P. Rosenbaum and his colleagues (1994, 1-31) conducted an extensive, thorough, and methodologically sound study of DARE. They established and carried out a longitudinal, randomized experiment to estimate the effects of DARE on the attitudes, beliefs, and drug use of students in the year following exposure to the program. They found no statistically significant overall effect on drug use, and few effects on attitudes or beliefs about drugs. There was one encouraging result—girls who went through DARE were twice as likely as girls without DARE to quit drinking. But DARE had an opposite effect on boys who went through DARE—they were less likely to stop drinking than boys who didn’t.

Does DARE invade privacy?

Some kids in DARE report their parents’ drug use to the police. Should they? Some (by no means all) officers encourage kids to do so. When the officers find out parents are drug users they arrest them. Is this right?

Police Chief James Gilway teaches a DARE class at Searsport Elementary School in Maine. One day, he asked the 11-year-olds if they knew anyone who used drugs. A few of the students raised their hands, but Crystal Grendell didn’t. Gilway didn’t ask for names but he encouraged students to talk to him privately outside class about anything that was “bothering them”. A few days later, Crystal went to the police station and eventually told Chief Gilway that parents grew and smoked marijuana.

Chief Gilway said Crystal volunteered the information. “This is a good little girl just thinking of her family.” He denied the conversation had anything to do with DARE. Crystal claimed she wanted her parents to stop smoking marijuana, although she didn’t tell them that. She also said Chief Gilway pressed her for details and promised her “nothing would happen to my parents.” Gilway disputes this.

The next day, Chief Gilway and two state drug agents interviewed Crystal for about an hour at school. That afternoon, two Searsport police officers and four drug agents converged on the Grendell home. The police took Crystal’s 8-year-old sister, who was alone in the house, to the neighbors. A few minutes later, a police car took Crystal to another town, where she was hidden by the police. Gilway said police were only baby-sitting Crystal to prevent possible abuse.

Inside the house, police confiscated the marijuana plants. At full height, the plants could’ve produced one ounce of smokeable marijuana. Officers arrested Crystal’s parents for growing 49 marijuana plants in their bedroom. Mrs. Grendell was fired from her job, although the charges against her were dropped. Mr. Grendell pleaded guilty to growing marijuana, but he wasn’t fired.

Still troubled a year later, Crystal said, “I would never tell again. Never. Never.” Mr. and Mrs. Grendell say they hold no grudge against Crystal. “I can’t blame Crystal for what she did. She told the truth when asked questions by authorities. That’s what I’ve always told her to do.” The Grendells blame themselves for Crystal’s troubles. “This would never have happened if we hadn’t smoked,” said Mrs. Grendell. Both parents say they never smoked in front of their children and never went to work high. They used marijuana like other people “having a few beers.” Nevertheless, both vow they will never smoke marijuana again.

“This is the stuff of Orwellian fiction,” said Gary Peterson, head of Parents Against DARE. “This is Big Brother putting spies in our homes.” Parents Against DARE, consisting of about 20 families, questions whether the police can teach objectively about drugs. Although the parents oppose drug use by their children, some of them smoke marijuana. The parents wonder if DARE is turning their children against them.

Law enforcement officers say kids hardly ever rat on their parents. “There are skeptics out there who think this is a program to spy on families. That’s simply not true. The main purpose is to curb drug use,” said Captain Patrick Froehle, commanding officer for the Los Angeles Police Department DARE division. Furthermore, police insist they’d be shirking their duty not to act on the information because kids would be living with parents who might be neglecting or abusing them. According to Captain Froehle (Pereira 1992):


In such environments, there are usually no morals, values or training for the child. My personal opinion is that an arrest is the best thing that could ever happen to that parent. Marijuana could lead to harder drugs, which, in turn, could ultimately lead to death. What may turn out to be negative for the parent is positive for society.


Also, students aren’t allowed to mention names in DARE classes. According to police, what happens after class between the officer and the kids is no different from what happens in other crimes. But some officers have qualms about using the information. “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Sometimes, I almost feel like a traitor,” says Officer Anne Corcoran, a DARE teacher for the Boston Police Department. “I look into the children’s eyes and I see them saying, ‘How dare you? I confided in you and you let me down.

No one knows how many students tell on their parents. The police don’t collect the numbers, and they don’t volunteer to hand over information they have. Parents who are charged usually want to avoid publicity. In one case, a DARE student turned in her stepfather, a professor at a small college in Iowa, for smoking marijuana. After the police arrested him, the professor had to leave the state to find work. The professor told the judge, “As a result of…turning us in to the police an emotional door was closed and she felt virtually alienated from her mother and has gone to live with her father.” (Pereira 1992)

The question became a matter of public debate in Maine, where Crystal Grendell turned in her parents. In a column in the local newspaper, eight residents were asked whether children should report their parents for smoking marijuana. One answered, “If the children are affected by it, yes, they should turn them in.” Two had mixed feelings. Five said no. Speaking for those opposed, Roxanne Morse, a high school teacher, said, “It reminds me of the Soviet Union when people who weren’t good Communists were at risk of being turned in by their children.”


1. Summarize the finding on the effectiveness of DARE. On the basis of the research would you recommend continuing DARE? Dropping DARE? More research? Defend your answer.

2. List the arguments for and against kids reporting their parents’ drug use to police. What policy do you favor? Back up your answer with the arguments you listed.