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Jennifer Keitel of the Yankton Police Department is shown receiving her D.A.R.E. training completion certificate from Tim Bormann, chief of staff of the South Dakota Attorney General’s office, and keynote speaker at the graduation.

Yankton police officer Jennifer Keitel hopes to connect with young people through her new job as a police officer, and the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) certification she just completed puts her squarely on that path.

Keitel just graduated from the police academy in Pierre this March. She moved to Yankton from Cedar Falls, Iowa, with her wife. Keitel graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 2016 where she played basketball.

“About two years before I moved out here, I was coaching college basketball,” she said. “When I moved here, they didn’t have much in the way of coaching, so I followed my next (interest), which was law enforcement.”

A state trooper with which Keitel did a ride along became a role model and sparked her interest in law enforcement.

“My passion is mentoring,” Keitel said. “Especially when I was in college, a lot of little kids looked up to me when I was playing basketball and coaching. Making an impact and a difference in those kids’ lives really stuck with me, which is why I chose coaching and law enforcement: I get to serve others and be that role model.”

Keitel was one of 25 officers from around the region who graduated from the training on June 21.

The two-week, eight-hour D.A.R.E. training, offered under the auspices of the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office, focuses on teaching officers a variety of techniques to pass on decision-making skills that help students resist peer pressure and offer positive alternatives to drugs and alcohol.

Keitel said she asked to go to the D.A.R.E. training and that the program has changed from when she went through it as a young student.

“It’s a good program,” she said. “It is focused not only on saying no to drugs and taking a stand, but it’s also about making choices and includes a lot of life skills. It empowers the kids more to make good choices. We learned a lot of different skills on how to facilitate learning and how to speak to kids.”

One thing she said she enjoys is having fun with the kids, but she will not be ready to teach a D.A.R.E. class for a year.

“You have to be certified for two years, and I will be certified for one year as of July 16, so I will be under the supervision of SRO Preston Crissey next year. He will make sure I am doing things right,” Keitel said. “I don’t know what that will entail, whether I get to teach a little bit or get to see how we as a department engage in the program and with the kids, but I will help Crissey and also interact with the kiddos, the most important part.”

One of the main goals is to build relationships with the students to help them try to make good choices, she said.

Though trained D.A.R.E. instructors may be called on to discuss the facts about drugs and alcohol, the focus of the classes is not on the drugs so much as on empowering children to make good choices.

“It’s more (about) having the kids understand that the choices that they make are super important,” Keitel said. “It’s more going through and looking at all your options and the pros and cons of those options.”

Officers are trained to introduce a broader picture of how a decision can affect the individual, their parents and their friends through the D.A.R.E. Decision Making Model:

  • D — Define: describe the problem
  • A — Assess: assess the different choices
  • R — Respond: make a choice, using the facts and information you have gathered
  • E — Evaluate: review your decision

“It’s a tool for (kids) to make decisions with and see how that could affect them or others,” Keitel said.

In any interaction with juveniles from the community, Yankton’s police officers are trying to build rapport and trust, so if there’s ever a need young people feel comfortable enough to say, “Hi” and talk to them, she said.

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