In the context of "scarce resources", it is important to keep in mind the $7,000 of taxpayer funds the Township Committee wasted this year on a school auditor that failed to provide a single written recomendation.
Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program cut
By BOB THOMAS, Staff Writer
Published: Aug 20th, 7:10 AM
WASHINGTON TWP. – One of the most popular anti-drug abuse programs in the nation, offered since 1991, has fallen to the budget ax.
A combination of budget cuts and police retirements and cancellation of the community policing unit has forced Chief Michael Bailey to end the often-praised Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program.
The end of DARE programs came during a transition year in which the main course would be switched from fifth to sixth grade. As a result, this year’s incoming sixth grade class at Long Valley Middle School will be the first that won’t get the comprehensive DARE impact.
“The impact won’t be instant,” said Police Chief Michael Bailey. “It will take a while, I think. You never really know how much help the program has been until much later in life.”
Bailey, a former DARE officer, said he’s had many people call to thank him for the program.
“Life is so busy, most people never really reach out. As to how many you’ve influenced and how it has affected them, you never really know,” Bailey said.
The presence of uniformed officers in the schools has been one of the secondary benefits from DARE classes.
“I think it is more effective than the same lesson coming from a regular teacher that you see all day. When police teach the classes, it’s somebody new and different and the kids paid attention,” Bailey said.’
The chief said the program gave police the chance to show they want to help.
“Ask any DARE officer and they’ll tell you that the kids had trust in them and would come to them when they had something troubling them,” Bailey said.
Sgt. Doug Compton has been the police liaison with the six schools in the township. He also had developed a separate program for Califon School, a small, grades K-5 elementary school with one classroom per grade.
“It took two of our guys to run the whole program, including after school and late nights,” said Bailey. “It came under community policing and there was a plethora of programs from seniors to pre-kindergarten that they were responsible for.”
DARE Officers John Wurtemberg and Kirk Griffin also gave seminars to senior citizens on scams such as phony contractors, covered some of the after-school traffic direction on Four Bridges Road and were responsible for much of the National Night Out planning.
When two patrol officers left the department in 2009, one to retirement and the other to another municipality, it meant Wurtemberg and Griffin had to be transferred back to road patrol duties.
“Community policing was a full-time job for two people, it had been three people at one time,” said Compton.
Mayor Kenneth Short said only about $5,000 was saved by the elimination of community policing, not including personnel.
“We asked all the departments to cut 20 percent of their budgets,” Short said. “How he manages the officers is up to the chief. If the chief decides he needs the men on the road, I back him up on that.”
Short said deciding on where to cut is a matter of priorities.
“In tough economic times like these, certain programs have to go that don’t affect health, safety and the public welfare,” said Short.
He said the township had received no compensation from the township or Califon school districts for the program.
In its last year, DARE included two lessons a year for kindergarten classes, five lessons taught between September to December for grades one to four and visitation lessons for one week per month per grade.
The full course was never instituted at the middle school, but it was planned to offer the DARE program to sixth graders in 2010-11 with 14 lessons, one a week, from January to June. A DARE officer would have been at the school three days a week for that part of the year.
School officials, including Superintendent Jeffrey Mohre, Assistant Superintendent Richard Papera and Long Valley Middle School Principal Mark Ippolito were either unavailable or did not return telephone inquiries.
At West Morris Central High School, a community policing officer would have taught an elective course in legal concepts, which would have included instruction on criminal justice, state permits, motor vehicle laws, vehicle stops and more. The class would have been offered for two semesters at a time, either in the fall or from January to June.
With the department cut back to 28, Bailey said there are times when the force has only three patrol cars on the road to cover Califon and the 46 square miles of Washington Township.
“There should be four on a squad but with vacations, we’re down to three a lot during the months of May through August,” Bailey said. “We only allow one on vacation from a squad at a time.”
Patrol officers work two days on, two days off, three days on, two days off on 12 hour shifts.
Only additional funding could help restore the DARE program, Bailey said.
“Over the years we have had private donations from people to the program,” he said. “You just hope that the money becomes available in the future. Like most programs, once you lose it, it will be difficult to get it back.”
Bailey said the general thinking is that the program won’t be restored soon.
“If a huge need became obvious, I think the (Township) committee would look at it again,” he said.