The devastating failure of the police response to the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, has reignited discussion about whether police officers should be assigned to schools. As this debate continues, police departments are entrenching themselves in U.S. schools in a way that has largely gone unnoticed and unreported by national media. In some parts of the country, the DARE program is back.
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s or '90s is probably very familiar with DARE, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. DARE was part of the War on Drugs and prescribed Nancy Reagan’s infamous “Just Say No” philosophy. The program was taught in elementary through high schools. The stated goal was to educate children about drugs, but it relied on harsh rhetoric and fearmongering, and made disprovable claims about drugs with little basis in science or psychology.
This is unsurprising given that DARE was the brainchild of then-chief of the Los Angeles Police Department Daryl Gates and its curriculum was taught by police officers. Gates was known for many things, including, famously, saying that recreational drug users “ought to be taken out and shot.”
At the height of the War on Drugs and the accompanying moral panic, DARE was taught at some 75% of schools across the U.S. and received almost $10 million in federal funding. But research consistently showed that DARE wasn’t very effective at stopping children from using drugs.
If DARE was ineffective in achieving its outwardly stated goal, it was very successful in other ways: DARE instructed children to “Recognize, Resist, Report.” DARE police officers taught children that drugs were wrong, they were harmful to anyone who used them, and that the way to help anyone using drugs was to report them to the police.