During a ceremony last month in the cafeteria at Cutchogue East Elementary School, sixth-grade students dressed in matching black T-shirts each received a diploma and a business card.
But the event wasn’t about their moving on to seventh grade in a different building — not yet, anyway. The diplomas were given because they’d completed the 12-week Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, known as DARE, and the business cards were from the Southold Police Department’s lone DARE officer.
For the past eight years, Officer William Brewer has been the DARE educator for local school districts. He started in 2005 with Tom Hudock, who had been DARE officer from the program’s inception in the mid-1980s until his promotion to sergeant about two years ago.
Mr. Brewer described the DARE program as a valuable part of the community that provides an opportunity for police to build close relationships with youths. Other East End communities, such as Shelter Island and East Hampton, also offer a DARE program.
About six years ago, the Suffolk County Police Department canceled its DARE classes and created a new program called the Enhanced HealthSmart Curriculum. That program is now called the School Resource Officer Program and has expanded from teaching about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse to include prescription drugs and gangs.
Mr. Brewer said Southold’s DARE program has also adapted over the years to tackle those issues, as well as bullying and Internet safety.
“Outside the specific program, we’ve added a couple of things as teachers have asked us or as things come up,” he said. “It’s easy to work with schools and the community because they’ve welcomed us with open arms.”
We interviewed Mr. Brewer after the Jan. 30 DARE graduation at Cutchogue East. The following was excerpted from our conversation:
Q: How effective has DARE been?
A: It isn’t a stand-alone program. DARE is one piece of the puzzle. It’s designed to work with parents and students. It’s very important for parents to reinforce what’s being taught in the school. That component really brings everything together. It takes the support of all the parents and the community to make it work. I encourage kids to bring in newspaper clippings and articles to make sure they understand what they’re reading in the paper, whether it’s drunk driving or advertisements, in order to help them to understand everything that surrounds them.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part of the job?
A: My favorite part about the job is the interaction. Being able to interact with the students, not only here but outside the classroom. Outside the classroom, I’m a regular police officer, so I’ll see them around, whether it’s the maritime festival or other special events. Sometimes it’s just at 7-Eleven where I see these kids and their families. A lot of the time they’ll recognize me and go out of their way to say hi.
Q: Ever have kids come up to you years later saying you made a difference?
A: Not so much in that sense but, as they have gotten older, I’ve had some of the students come forward and say, ‘This person is doing something’ or they’ll come forward with information about other students doing something bad or drug-related that has led to other serious crimes. Knowing that students are taking on that responsibility helps us to obtain that information. That door is always open.
Q: Do we have a drug problem here?
A: Are there drugs? Yes. To say it’s a problem or chronic is a tough thing to say. Are there students with drug problems? Yes. It is something we’re exposed to. We know it’s out there. The more we can educate kids through programs like DARE to help them become aware of it is very important.