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Ariz. Police Chief Asks City Council to Dump DARE

Yuma, Arizona -- Nearly 20 years ago, Yuma Police Chief Robby Robinson made a plea to the city council to fund a national anti-drug program.

Now he's asking the council to cut it.

"Years later, I'm here saying this program has come to a point where I think it's a luxury that I'm not sure we can afford anymore," Robinson said.

Since 1986, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, commonly referred as DARE, has been funded solely through the Yuma Police Department. The department spends nearly $300,000 annually for the salaries of four DARE police officers.

"The reality is that it's a big impact on my budget," Robinson said. "When the officers are in DARE, they are not really available to do anything else. These officers are needed more in the field than they are in the DARE program."

Robinson presented his recommendation to eliminate DARE and transfer the officers to the field services division for patrol and investigations to the Yuma City Council during a budget work session at City Hall recently. If approved, the program would officially end in June.

"I'm not denying that the DARE program is a popular program," Robinson said. "But my observation is that when you read the daily reports and the types of incidents we are having, I feel that these officers are going to be far more valuable to us and provide better services as patrol officers."

Cutting DARE to fix budget woes isn't a new idea. It's been happening across the country for years.

Last year, the Phoenix Police Department slashed its DARE program in half because of money concerns and the Maricopa County Sheriff's office cut its DARE program after doubts about the program's long-term impact.

Currently, the 10-week program is offered to Yuma students at Crane Elementary School District and Yuma Elementary School District 1.

Crane Elementary School District Superintendent Gary Knox said Robinson told him about his budget proposal months ago. When asked about the proposed cut on Thursday, Knox sighed deeply.

"On one hand I hate to see it go," he said. "On the other hand I appreciate the need to have the sufficient amount of police officers on the streets."

Since school districts don't fund the program, it's tough for them to lobby for it. Plus there has been debate in the educational research community about its long-term impact, Knox said.

"I don't know the long-term effects of DARE on our kids," he said. "We hope it's been a positive program. We wouldn't have continued it if we didn't think so."

Robinson doesn't know exactly how many students have participated in DARE graduation through the years. But in the first year, officers taught 2,000 students. Last year, it was 10,000.

"It has increased tremendously over the years," he said.

Councilwoman Ema Lea Shoop proposed eliminating DARE at last year's budget work session.

"Due to the population growth, I think there is a great need for them (patrol officers) in the community," she said. "And there is not enough money in the general fund to add officers and keep DARE."

Mayor Larry Nelson said he has always been a strong supporter of DARE. But in the last year, he has switched his position after talking with officers about their challenges in providing the program.

"There is so much competition with the schools to even get in the classes," Nelson said.

That's true, Knox said. The federal law, No Child Left Behind, has limited the number of extras elementary schools are able to do.

"Our focus has become very clear. It's to help the kids succeed in reading, writing and math," he said.

Councilman Bobby Brooks said he hasn't made up his mind on the issue yet.

"I've always been in favor of the DARE program," he said. "I guess if it's OK with school officials and we still have the nine resource officers in place, I feel comfortable with that."

In contrast with the DARE program, school districts pay the salaries of the resource officers.

Knox said schools understand the difficult decision the city needs to make.

"Sometimes we have to make tough decisions and Robby and the city are faced with a tough decision," he said.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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