SOMERVILLE, NJ – On Friday, it will be official, but on Thursday, 25 DARE police officer candidates had to prove their ability to reach out to their public – several classes of fifth graders at the Van Derveer School.
The 25 police officers who will be certified as Drug Abuse Resistance Education officers are members of several local police departments – Bernardsville, Montgomery, Warren and Watchung in Somerset County; Plainsboro, South Amboy and the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office; West Windsor, Springfield, Hardwick, Upper Saddle River, Madison and Stafford Township.
Others came from out-of-state, including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont, and a member of the US Coast Guard Police from Kodiak, Alaska.
Graduation ceremonies are at 11 a.m. Friday at The Somerville Elks, Route 28 in Bridgewater, where they have been training and attending classes the past two weeks.
DARE is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives.
The officers will have completed 40 hours of intense training helping them to fine tune their communication skills, interacting with young and old alike, and understanding the importance of being on the front lines, understanding social issues and interfacing with their communities., according to Ret. Capt. Jack Bennett, communications officer for the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and the DARE training officer for New Jersey.
Much of their time will be spent in the schools, interacting with young students, as was the case Thursday at the Van Derveer School.
The officers gathered in the school lobby before splitting up and to visit the students in several fifth-grade classrooms.
At first, the interaction on both sides was tentative, but the students soon warmed up to the officers when they were asked things like “What’s your favorite food,” “What team do you root for,” “What’s your favorite subject,” “What did you do during the snow storm?”
Soon, they moved on to more serious topics, discussing materials that had been distributed to the students prior to the officers’ arrival, timely issues like dealing with peer pressure and bullying.
DARE is designed to give students the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs, and violence. A welcome byproduct of the friendly police presence is to reassure students that they should not fear, but rather, look to police as adults they can trust and rely upon.
DARE was founded in 1983 in Los Angeles and has proven so successful that it is now part of the curriculum in 75 percent of the nation’s school districts and in more than 52 countries around the world.
As the Opiod crisis, bullying, gun violence and other issues confront students, DARE has taken on added significance, according to Bennett.
The DARE program, which had begun to languish in the 1990s because of budgetary concerns, is making a comeback, with many departments, including Montgomery, “rebooting” their program, according to Bennett.
The Elks help to underwrite the expense of the DARE program.