A Police DARE

Last week’s “06880” post on the Westport Police Department’s new H2 Hummer noted that its primary use is as a DARE vehicle.

Predictably, some of our readers got their knickers in a knot.

They knocked DARE — the national Drug Abuse Resistance Education program — for failing to keep kids off drugs and alcohol.

Others defended it as providing a great opportunity to initiate introspection and conversations about an important topic.

Sensing a great chance to get out of my next speeding ticket learn more about the program, I called Westport’s 2 DARE point people:  captain Foti Koskinas and officer Ned Batlin.

When Koskinas joined the force 14 years ago, DARE was already underway.  He knows from experience it’s not perfect — but he considers the alternative.

“It’s frustrating that educated people think a program like this — or any one — can eliminate drug use,” Koskinas says.

“We look at DARE as a way to reach out to 5th graders.  We help them know there are consequences — health, legal, you name it — to their actions.

 

Capt. Foti Koskinas

 

Koskinas admits, “We don’t have the resources to deter everyone from using drugs.  This is just part of a team effort between police, teachers, families and kids.”

Koskinas adds, “We know kids experiment.  That’s reality.  It’s unrealistic to expect every kid to not succumb to peer pressure.  But if we get our message across to some kids — or even one — then that’s a success.”

DARE is funded by the Police Department.  Costs include Batlin’s time, as well as t-shirts, booklets and training materials.

Koskinas says, “We think it’s important to build relationships with kids.  We want them to see the police as more than flashing lights and emergencies.”

Batlin’s job as DARE officer is to develop 1-on-1 relationships with students.  As a Westport native and former student here — Koskinas is toow — Batlin understands the 5th-grade mind.

As a football and wrestling coach, Batlin also serves as an important role model.

 

Officer Ned Batlin at a DARE graduation. (Photo courtesy of Westport Patch)

 

“I’ve gotten great feedback,” he says.  “We have a conversation in class.  A student goes home, and starts a dinner table conversation that never would have started otherwise.  DARE can be a great ice-breaker.”

Those conversations take interesting turns.  One student told his mother, “Mom, we can’t have marinara.  It’s bad for you.”

But another 5th grader asked Batlin, “When do we talk about cocaine and heroin?”

“I’d rather have them ask me that question, than another 5th grader,” Batlin says.

When he included roofies in his drug kit, he avoided the other term:  “date rape.”  But a youngster knew.  He’d heard about it on “CSI.”

“These kids are being exposed to this stuff,” Batlin notes.  “You can’t hide from it.”

He approaches his task with a combination of urgency, earnestness, realism — and humor.

“I tell them the ‘A’ in DARE stands for ‘abuse,'” Batlin says.  “It’s not about them thinking their parents can’t have a beer at a cookout, or wine with dinner.”

Batlin asks the 5th graders if they like dessert.  Of course! they say.

Well, he counters, would it be good to have a whole pie, instead of one piece?

No! they respond.  And then they start thinking.

Sometimes, Batlin picks the biggest 5th grader in the room.  He tells the kid he’ll give him $100 if he can beat Batlin in arm wrestling.  Then he says, “Do you want to do it now, or when you’re 25?”

25! the youngster invariably says.

Why? Ned asks.

“‘Cause I’ll be bigger and stronger,” he replies.

Bingo! “You’ll be bigger and stronger mentally and emotionally too,” Batlin says.

Still, DARE has its critics.  Koskinas addresses them, saying:  “It’s hard for me to read comments on the blog about not getting through.  Kids have told me — unsolicited — how great it is.  And when I go to the graduation ceremony, I see genuine excitement among the 5th graders.

“I’m passionate about public service, and getting rid of the ‘blue wall’ — the perception that all the police do is arrest people.

“I realize there are 26,000 people in Westport, and not all of them are happy with us.  We just do the best we can, and hope some of it sticks.  I think DARE is a good, important part of that.”

Batlin agrees.

“As important as DARE is for drug education, the relationship a child builds with a policeman through it is something they’ll keep for the rest of their lives.

“My phone rings all the time from parents with questions.  Just the fact that they met me at a DARE graduation may make them feel comfortable enough to call.

“You know, it can be intimidating even for an adult to call the Police Department.”

Even on a DARE.

27 responses to “A Police DARE

  1. As parent to a current 5th Grader, I am disappointed to learn that the Board of Ed. has recently trimmed DARE’s presence in the school. If my understanding is correct, the program has been trimmed from 17 sessions, down to 10, eliminating most of the powerful tools that give Officer Batlin “cred” with the kids…the dogs, the goggles…and most disturbingly the bullying unit has been cut.

    With all of the high-profile bullying cases in the media currently, I think arming our children with some structured strategies and equipping them with these tools on the cusp of their secondary school careers should be getting additional attention, rather than being eliminated altogether.

    I have asked of my district PTA President, who has taken the inquiry to the PTA Council, but so far no answers.

    Can any 06880 reader shed some light on why this cut was made? (And how? Because it would seem to me that there would have been some parent outcry if there had been an awareness that this was being considered.)

    Thanks!

    • God forbid parents take responsibility for keeping their kids off drugs and alcohol. God forbid the superintendent add instruction time to the curriculum instead of using that time to parent our little angels. But I suppose every other aspect of parenting has been abdicated to the school system so why not this one.

  2. I believe the decision was made by the superintendent in order to add more curricular time to classes. Officer Batlin is now using more time to speak to Staples health classes. In addition, Greens Farms Academy has added DARE for the 1st time.

  3. “Overall, evidence on the effects of the traditional DARE curriculum, which is implemented in grades 5 and 6, shows that children who participate are as likely to use drugs as those who do not participate. ” – US Surgeon General.

    I completely support the idea of police outreach to and engagement with schoolkids. It sounds like, in this area, DARE has some success. Great. However, if DARE completely fails at its main objective, why use it and not another outreach program?

  4. I remember DARE with Detictive Hallock. It was a great program. I am happy to say that it is because of that program I have never done drugs (never even tried) or drank ( I must admit that I do not drink for other reasons too but having DARE in the mix reinforced my good decisssion to be alcohol free) .

    Why the school would decide to take out bullying which currently is such a previlant section of DARE is just stupid. It makes it seem like the Westport school board is asking for more physical and internet bullying. I beleive now, more than ever is a time when we need this DARE program.

    I think that it would be great for everyone and anyone on the school board to see what life is like in schools with the students there. I think it would be great someday for our education system to be in the TV show Undercover Boss. Let the higher ups see what life is like during the school day maybe they would think twice about cutting DARE in half.

  5. One of my kids (now a college senior) reported seeing his DARE instructor smoking outside the building after school. But even before that, he said DARE was a joke, its “gateway drugs to hell” approach coming across as both condescending and false. As he put it way back in fifth grade, “you’re either going to do drugs or you’re not, and it has a lot more to do with how you were raised than what they tell you in school.”

    My daughter had a similar experience. Now a Staples sophomore, she wrote her final essay on why DARE doesn’t work. Needless to say, she didn’t win the contest; too bad the Surgeon General wasn’t judging.

  6. The Dude Abides

    The recent skirmish on the Hummer made me look into the DARE program. My daughter went through it some 13 years ago and seemed to enjoy it but that was my exposure. My son was probably the reason they started it. I read a rather recent University of Minnesota article (September 2009) that explained that the program now is nearly 27 years old nationwide and huge amounts of money have been expended by all levels of government. The success rate is apparently hard to measure for some reason but the conclusion of this study was “it is better to have it than not.” I concur with the above comments that question why perhaps the inner family, church, school classes or a private entity have not taken over such responsbilities but it is what it is. Hope it works. Still don’t know why they need a car?

  7. Let’s be honest, the last car that D.A.R.E. had was a PT Cruiser. If they want to appeal more to kids, a Hummer is the way to do it.

  8. mix: Hahaha very true

    As for DARE, I think its good that the police are able to reach out to children and be more than the bad guys (which most high schoolers consider them). I think there’s some good out of DARE

    But I think it boils down to their family life and social life with friends that ultimately decides the drug users, to the drug addicts to the drug abstainers.

    I had one friend, now a college sophomore, who hadn’t tried a drug until junior year of high school, but by the end of high school, he was known as the biggest druggie in school. So I’m not sure attitudes and actions always start at a young age.

  9. fantastic that you gave the involved officers a forum within which to discuss the program further. hopefully, given their input, everyone will be more realistic and appreciative of their efforts, including the $s they are able to bring to the town and spend on police programs. This is one town in which the $s spent aren’t getting ‘lost’. And, again, the town is lucky to have them.

  10. Any awareness or prevention program is a worthwhile endeavor, of course it is hard to quantify results and there will always be critics.

    However, it demystifies the topic and opens the discussion for children which allows a dialog to begin under a supervised and controlled environment in conjunction with studies for its effectiveness.

    We still have drunk drivers and drivers using cell phones, are we to stop any future awareness programs since it ‘doesn’t work’. I think not.

    As far as the irresponsible comments, ‘it’s the parents job’ etc. Yes, it is the parents’ job and we try to do the absolute best we can. However, our young school age children are out of our control and oversight for a great part of the day. My first and fourth grader leave before 8 and return after 3:30, during that time a lot can happen. Some of their friends have older siblings who are teenagers and the kids hear and know a lot these days. Also peer pressure is a powerful persuader. Of course I try to make the greatest impression on them and hope they listen, but we parents aren’t the only voice in their lives.

    Whether it is D.A.R.E. or another similar program doesn’t really matter as long as they are getting some type of message to deter them and one that helps them to recognize and deal with situations that they may encounter.

    As far as the bullying program, I know GFS has recently begun a program that works in cooperation with Staples High School students after school and I believe it will be taught to the younger grades in school. My daughter just participated in it and thought it was ‘great’. I don’t know too much about it, but I would suggest anyone interested should contact their PTA representatives.

    And lastly, I don’t know too many of Westport’s finest, but I do know Capt. Koskinas and he is the best and a real asset to this town. If he recommends something I would not question or second guess his opinion. He is a top notch police officer and we are lucky to have him.

  11. A realistic parent

    DARE is tool that should be used in conjunction with parents educating our children. It takes a village, period. The fuss over the Hummer is insane and taking focus away from what is really important, the connection that Officer Batlin is making with these young children. If one child benefits from the program than the program is a success! My children who are now 15, have open dialogue with us on everything and I believe it is due to their DARE teachings. In the 5th grade after their DARE program, while driving them home, they asked me if I knew what a “crackhead” was. Shocked and about to wreck, they told me it is when someone uses cocaine and their heart explodes. Then referenced some basketball player that it happened to. I maybe thought we weren’t ready to discuss drugs at their age on that level, but they were. For weeks to come we would discuss random memories/thoughts from that day. Now, 5 years later, we communicate with much more ease. It still can be a bit uncomfortable but because we started the dialogue early, our kids are more willing to talk to us because they trust us. All thanks to the program. FYI: I was a closet smoker and was informed that day that cigarettes had rocket fuel, rat poison and arsenic in them…never touched one again. Again, thanks to DARE.
    So for all the naysayers who think it doesn’t help, you are completely wrong. It is an amazing aid in conjunction with parental rearing.

  12. Westport Cops Get A Hummer
    Posted on October 5, 2010
    by Dan Woog| 95 Comments
    You may have seen the Westport Police Department’s latest vehicle: a Hummer H2.

    I GOT THIS FROM GOOGLE FOR THOSE INTERESESTED:

    You may also have wondered why the !@#$%^&* our cops spent $50,000 or so on a vehicle whose incredible overuse of metal and plastic is surpassed in environmental grossness only by its spectacularly inefficient gas mileage.

    Chill.

    They didn’t pay a penny for it. It’s a gift — sort of — from a Westport white-collar criminal.

    Two years ago, our neighbor was charged with big-time embezzlement. His 2006 Hummer — with less than 2,000 miles — was part of his seized assets.

    It sat for 18 months at a Secret Service facility in New Jersey. Captain Foti Koskinas and detective Phil Restieri worked relentlessly to receive the vehicle, as partial restitution for the time the Westport Police spent on the case.

    A few weeks ago, the car was released to the cops. It looked pretty cool, but to make it a real police vehicle it needed work.

    Whelen – a Connecticut-based company that outfits cop cars — donated all the lighting equipment. (The Town of Westport was one of the firm’s 1st accounts, back when it began.)

    Fleet Auto donated the labor to install lighting and sirens.

    The Hummer is used as a DARE vehicle. Fifth graders ogle the vehicle; it breaks the ice as officer Ned Batlin builds relationships with kids — and they learn (as the embezzler did) that crime doesn’t pay.

    The Police Department is well aware that although the Hummer did not cost taxpayers a dime, gas does. It will be used primarily for DARE events; you won’t see it cruising up and down the Post Road, or chasing bad guys along the back streets of town.

    So why don’t we just sell the gas guzzler, and pocket the profits?

    The government’s asset forfeiture rules mandate the vehicle be kept for at least 2 years.

    Perhaps by then our cops will have seized a Hummer H3 — you know, the hybrid that gets 100 miles per gallon.

  13. Why is it that when empirical evidence of a program’s failure is presented, the defenders of the program fight on to secure greater resources for the program? What vested interests are at stake?

  14. D.A.R.E. is currently taught in 75% of all school districts in America and 42 foreign countries. 36 Million Children take D.A.R.E. Every president (Reagan-Obama) has honored the D.A.R.E. program since its inception. The U.N. just recognized D.A.R.E. There are many positive studies/surveys that are available if you want to do your own research. Many authors say D.A.R.E does not work but my program does, so use/buy it instead. I also noticed some of the negative websites wanted me to check a box to legalize marijuana. We all have a vested interest in the children.

    • Where is the evidence that the D.A.R. E. program achieves its objective? The Surgeon General has provided evidence that it does not. The fact that a program is wide spread is not evidence of its efficacy.

  15. Completely eliminating experimentation from the Staples High School experience would be an implausible goal and the DARE program cannot be labeled a failure if it doesn’t do this. I’m a senior at Staples right now and I could not name a single student who has completely abstained from drinking since their freshman year. It is in our nature as teenagers to constantly test our limits and boundaries and it is that same innate tendency that forces us to make mistakes but then to learn from them.

    In fifth grade I thought I would never touch alcohol. That turned out to be an inaccurate prediction. Does that mean that DARE was a failure? Of course not. I also thought I would never drive drunk. This is something that has, and always will hold true. I thought I would never do drugs of any sort; another correct prediction. And I thought I would be the “bully buster” and not the “bystander”. Turns out I was right about that one as well.

    Earlier I said that experimentation is a natural part of adolescence. It forces us to make mistakes and then to learn from their consequences. The DARE program did not eliminate the experimentation process and it probably never will, however, it minimized the the probability that our actions will have irreversible consequences. It made it so that we won’t be that kid in jail, or that kid in the hospital, or that kid who lost his life. Instead, the worst we will be is that kid who got grounded, or that kid who was a little under the weather the next morning, or that kid who embarrassed himself a little the night before.

  16. The Dude Abides

    Anonymous: I appreciate your candor. I do question your conclusion: “The DARE program . . . minmized the the (sic) probability that our actions will have irreversible consequences.” If the program did not work for you in terms of abstinance, how did it help? I am not trying to browbeat you but I think the fact that you are White, from Westport and apparently very bright had more to do with your conclusion than a 5th grade program.

    • There is a strong vested interest promoting D.A.R.E. The scientific evidence does not support the conclusion the program is worth the time, effort, and money it requires. There is a “feel good” effect created by a well structured sales effort for the product.

  17. The Dude Abides:
    Well, as I said, it would be impossible to prevent Staples students from expirementing. In other words, promoting abstinance would be a lost cause. I understand that completely preventing students from drinking and doing drugs would be the ideal result of DARE however, it’s important that we be realistic and not idealistic.

    As far as I’m concerned, there are two alternatives to DARE. One would be to use a different program.

    DARE allows students to recieve education about drugs and alcohol through Officer Batlan on a personal level. Now, I know Ned Batlan very well (Don’t worry, he was my lacrosse coach), and I guarantee you will not find a better man to teach this course. He is motivated by a genuine desire to see kids succeed. You cannot replace that.

    The other alternative would be to eliminate drug and alcohol education from the curriculum entirely.

    This would be idiotic. I don’t mean to come off as rude but, there is no better way to put it. To send students into Staples equipped with nothing more than the knowledge they gained through siblings, TV, and friends, would be asking for disaster. Ignorance would increase the chance that experimentation would yield irreversible consequences.

    I don’t want you to think that I’m just being confrontational. I honestly believe that DARE has greatly contributed to keeping the class of 2011 safe throughout high school and I think terminating or even curtailing the program would be wrong.

    • The empirical evidence does not support your conclusions. Maybe another program would be appropriate, but The DARE program is not achieving its objectives.
      “The DARE program is currently cited as ineffective by the US Department of Education (DOE), the US Surgeon General, the US General Accountability Office, and is banned from receiving federal funding by the DOE.”

  18. The Dude Abides

    I do agree with Jeffxs and read with interest your comments, anonymous. You honesty is refreshing. My own doubts are based without much experience although I am a reformed boozer and spent many lunches at Staples in Vista/Port Chester when it was legal to drink in New York at eighteen. Based on such, I think a certified teacher ought to be teaching a health class at the 7th-10th grade level covering the various drugs. I think the police should have enough to do without this form of community outreach and that a classroom can bring an accurate testing ground for student retention as well as a barometer for results which is lacking now. Certainly abstinance is nearly impossible in this day and age but statistics indicate teenagers are smoking cigarettes more and experimenting with drugs to a greater degree than ever. So whatever we have been doing, ain’t working. Please don’t drive when you have been drinking. Thanks.

  19. I just want to be sure I have this right. In Dan’s two articles on DARE, high school students and adults who took the course plus parents of students have commented about the positive effects of the program. Yet Jeffxs and the Dude are still trying to convince them and everyone else that it does not work. Are they really debating with people that say DARE helped them?

    • Are you questioning the fact that other than anecdotes, there is no empirical evidence that DARE achieves its objectives. The US DOE, Surgeon General, and GAO say that the program does not work and federal funds are not to be spent on DARE activities. What don’t you understand?

    • I’m glad to know some families find it effective. Since did nothing for my kids, I wish it were optional (and before or after) school.

  20. If nothing else, the DARE program has hammered in to most all of the students heads, “NO DRINKING AND DRIVING”. That is a lesson that is worth every dime spent. If federal funds are cut on saving teens lives, I would like the pictures of all the senseless deaths caused by drunk drivers posted in the offices of the people who chose to cut the funds.

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