Justice  /  Origin Story

Police Used the DARE Program to Get Inside of U.S. Schools

It was never very effective at preventing drug use.


From the vantage point of the DARE officer, DARE was a not-so-subtle propaganda campaign to reshape the image of the police. While police departments had long attempted to use community relations and youth programs to push kids to identify with the police, DARE represented a shift from earlier community-oriented policing strategies. It attempted to burnish the image of the police within the context of an aggressive drug and gang war that actively undermined trust in the police.


Students in the program were implicitly taught to identify with and respect police officers through DARE officers’ participation in a wide range of extracurricular activities….During the pilot year, for instance, one officer coached a DARE Track Club while another coached a football team. Several others were even involved in holiday activities at the school, including playing Santa Claus and Rudolf, “clearly not roles in which young people are used to seeing law enforcement officers.” Crucially, the officers believed that this sort of activity was a central part of DARE’s mission. “The officers feel that these extra activities and involvements are very beneficial to furthering the goals of Project DARE,” an interim evaluation report concluded. The most useful part of the program, according to officers, was how students shifted their attitudes and perceptions of the police as someone to be trusted, not feared. “However, the aspect of the project which brought the most satisfaction to the officers was working with the children and having the children come to accept and confide in them.”

The implicit goal of changing the image of police officers was part of the program’s origins. When the LAPD and LAUSD submitted a grant proposal for second-year funding, for example, they allocated resources to buy officers athletic uniforms. “Part of the DARE method is to involve the officers in the total school program,” the LAPD and LAUSD grant writers emphasized. “Naturally, this includes school athletic events. The officers wear their uniforms for all other school events, but they cannot be worn for athletics. Athletic uniforms serve to remind students, spectators and parents of the officer’s purpose and provide inexpensive, yet effective, program identity.” Such an orientation was meant to create a more positive image of police officers than aggressive crime fighters, which became a selling point of the program. “In addition to their formal classroom teaching,” a 1988 Department of Justice DARE manual explained, “DARE officers spend time on the playground, in the cafeteria, and at student assemblies to interact with students informally. . . . In this way students have an opportunity to become acquainted with the officer as a trusted friend who is interested in their happiness and welfare.” Adding to this effort, law enforcement agencies created collectible trading cards of DARE officers to both promote the program and further humanize the police.