LEXINGTON, KY (WKYT) – Yes, the 24 people in this classroom are a little old to be fifth graders. But the training team will tell you, these police officers are playing the part for a reason.
“We want to turn it around and at least let them think they’re fifth graders so they understand the answers they’re going to get from some of these kids,” said Officer Kevin Grimes of the Nicholasville Police Department, a training team mentor.
Those 24 officers – from police departments all over Kentucky (and even two officers from California) – are in Lexington for a two-week D.A.R.E. training conference.
Many people in central Kentucky may remember the program from their childhood. Police officers go to elementary schools to teach students about the dangers of drugs, violence and other dangerous behaviors.
On a larger scale, D.A.R.E., which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is about laying a foundation for kids to make good decisions, using the “D.A.R.E. Decision-Making Model”: Define, Assess, Respond and Evaluate.
“It’s like math,” said Sgt. Greg Hill with Kentucky State Police. Hill is also the state’s D.A.R.E. coordinator. “If I teach a kid 2+2 and I stop there, will that kid ever know what 4+4 means? So if I teach them to make safe and responsible decisions in elementary school, and I also teach them to make safe and responsible decisions into middle school, hopefully it’ll carry on through high school and into their adult life.”
Lexington Police ended its D.A.R.E. program in 2011 for budgetary and staffing reasons, said Officer Bige Towery of the Lexington Police Department’s Community Services Unit.
But now it is back. The department re-launched the program in 2016.
Officer Towery told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer that Chief Mark Barnard, who took over leadership of Lexington’s police department in January 2015, has made a high priority of building and cultivating relationships with the community, also emphasizing the need for kids, starting at a young age, to have positive interactions with police.
“I really believe that there are messages that are being taught, messages being communicated through D.A.R.E. that maybe otherwise aren’t being communicated,” Officer Towery said.
Ten of the 24 officers currently being trained are from the Lexington Police Department. That is no accident. And, Officer Towery said, the department hopes to host the training again sometime over the next year, so that they can have even more Lexington officers trained.
The program may be coming back to Lexington at the right time – amid a troubling trend of violence, often drug-related and all too often involving teenagers.
“There’s a reality component to that, where we can talk to young people about, ‘If you make those decisions, these are potential consequences,’” Officer Towery said. “I think it’s important for them to know what could happen.”
The Lexington Police Department currently has four D.A.R.E. officers. They have completed the program with students at Booker T. Washington Intermediate Academy and are currently in the middle of it at William Wells Brown Elementary, Towery said.
The current training runs until February 3, when the officers-in-training will graduate and become D.A.R.E. Officers. Officer Towery said they will start the program at a handful of schools, but hope to expand to even more schools in the next year.