COVINGTON - The local Drug Abuse Resistance Education program has been discontinued in an effort to save money and focus more police resources on public safety.
The Covington Police Department started the program in the early 1990s, with the aim of providing children in local elementary and middle schools with information and skills to live drug- and violence-free lives.
But the burden of operating the program has increased in recent years as the school system has grown, and with all city departments cutting expenses due to the economy, Police Chief Stacey Cotton opted to remove DARE from this year's budget.
"Obviously during these economic times, we are having to scrutinize every penny spent on public safety and police," Cotton said.
With a need for more policemen on the streets, money must go toward fighting crime and protecting residents, Cotton said.
"Our mission is to provide protection and serve, more so than education. We have to leave that, obviously, to the schools," he said.
DARE was initially funded through a grant provided by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, but "just like with any grant, the funding ran out," Cotton said.
The Covington Police Department found alternative funding sources - the department budget, local grants and fundraisers.
Since DARE started, the school system has more than doubled in size, and the program is being stretched to the limit. The total cost of operating DARE runs about $500,000 per year, including staff, vehicles and building maintenance and operations. Between $300,000 and $350,000 comes from the city side, with the county contributing two employees and vehicles and upkeep of headquarters, at the old jail on Stallings Street.
"It just doesn't make sense that the taxpayers of the city of Covington should have to bear the burden of having to provide DARE to students throughout the county," Cotton said.
The program was discontinued as of July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. It's not likely it will be reinstated and there are no plans to start any similar programs, but, "That doesn't mean we're going to turn our back on outreach issues and community issues," Cotton said.
"I hate to see the program go. I think our program was quite unique. I think we reached a lot of people and served a great purpose. It's the only program I know of that the citizens, the parents, the students, the teachers and the business community could all focus on together," he said. "We have seen the benefits over the years in this community, and I think we will continue to see the benefits. We've got generations of students that have gone through the program that are now out in the community as adults raising their own kids."
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.