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Manchester Police chief revisiting drug education program in schools

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 23. 2018 9:17PM
Tilton police officer Bill Patten and Winnisquam Regional Middle School seventh-graders sign a no-drug pledge sheet during a Law Enforcement Against Drugs class exercise. (COURTESY)

MANCHESTER — Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard said he wants to re-institute a program similar to DARE in city schools, but not the traditional Drug Abuse Resistance Education program that the city jettisoned more than 10 years ago.

Willard said he has been in touch with the New Jersey-based organization Law Enforcement Against Drugs (LEADS), which offers curriculum for grades K through 8 and high school. Although “Too Good for Drugs” would put police in schools to teach kids about drugs and bullying, it would also use teachers and guidance counselors to lead a 10-week course.

That is a key difference from DARE, which relies on police officers exclusively.

“There’s been some research within law enforcement that they didn’t find it (DARE) necessarily effective,” Willard said early this month. He said his department is preparing a PowerPoint presentation, and he hopes to present a proposal to school Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas and Mayor Joyce Craig next month.

In New Hampshire, 74 police agencies use DARE, according to New Hampshire State Police, the official coordinator of DARE programs in the state.

“I don’t think there’s a competition (with LEADs). DARE still corners the market,” said trooper Richard Perreault, the DARE state coordinator in New Hampshire.

But Perreault said some police agencies are probably cutting back because of the demands that DARE places on departments. State police stepped out of the classroom role two to three years ago, but continue to oversee coordination and training, he said.

Teachers and police

LEADs programs are operating in Rochester and Tilton.

“One of the things that makes it successful is partnerships,” said Tilton Police Chief Robert Cormier, who introduced the LEADs program into Winnisquam Regional Middle School. In Tilton’s first year of LEADS, six police officers and six teachers taught LEADs middle school classes every Friday for 12 weeks.

Teachers know how to teach the class, and cops know about drugs, Cormier said.

“They tag-team the lecture,” Cormier said. “You don’t take a single school resource officer and try to have him have an impact across a 1,200-student campus. That’s impossible.”

Cormier said his six officers go through two days of LEADs training; DARE requires two weeks of training.

With LEADs, Winnisquam students get exposed to a number of Tilton officers, which can pay off later when kids run into police on the street, he said.

But Perreault said DARE allows for meaningful relationships to form. And he stressed that DARE officers are properly trained.

“It’s not like you throw officers in a class and say ‘Don’t smoke pot, don’t drink alcohol,’” he said.

LEADs’ Too Good for Drugs curriculum was developed by the private Menendez Foundation, according to LEADs. DARE said its curriculum has been updated over the years.

Both organizations claim their programs are evidence-based, go beyond a just-say-no-message, and include lessons on bullying and violence. Both also say the cost is minimal for schools and involves the purchase of workbooks.

Manpower issue

Willard said he likes LEADs because it uses a peer-to-peer model so a child is not alone if he or she is being bullied.

It’s unclear why Manchester schools dropped DARE. One of the last references in Union Leader files was a February 2005 article about Manchester police officer Terry McKenzie being named the DARE officer of 2004. Then in November 2006, people attending a neighborhood meeting in the wake of the shooting death of officer Michael Briggs complained that DARE had been canceled.

DARE was always under the gun in Manchester, said Lloyd Doughty a retired Manchester police officer who ran the DARE program and now heads security at the SNHU Arena.

For police brass, it was a manpower issue. For school officials, it was yet another program being added to the curriculum.

“I don’t think anybody said it wasn’t effective,” Doughty said. “What it came down to was probably manpower and time.”

He said any program that teaches about drugs, alcohol, risky behavior and decision-making would be beneficial, given the state’s opioid crisis.

“The earlier you do it, the better,” Doughty said.

Manchester school officials said drug prevention is included in the health curriculum for kindergarten through grade 12. All middle schools and high schools supplement that with awareness and prevention activities throughout the school year, including the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 360 program.

“I’m looking forward to the presentation by Chief Willard to learn more about LEADs and how our students can benefit,” said school Superintendent Bolgen Vargas in a statement to the Union Leader. “I appreciate the chief’s partnership in creating a possible opportunity to enhance drug prevention education in our schools.”

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