Youngsters roar approval of 6 drug-fighting officers

May 04, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

When the six people walked onto the stage at Merriweather Post Pavilion last night, the crowd went wild.

They weren't Tina Turner, Sade or other well-known performers.

They are six popular county police officers who have touched the lives of local fifth-graders.

After emcee Ken Curtis, of Fox 45's "Clubhouse," introduced Officer Denise Walk, roaring applause erupted. That response was repeated five more times until the last Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) officer appeared.

"These are the most popular people in the D.A.R.E. program," Mr. Curtis declared at last night's third annual D.A.R.E. Celebration.

The program, which helps students understand the dangers of using drugs, began in 1983 in Los Angeles and has spread to all 50 states.

The program began in the county five years ago, said Sgt. Bo Haslup, who heads the county Police Department's Youth Services Division. He helped create the fun-filled night three years ago for fifth-graders who completed the 14-week anti-drug program.

"It's for the kids and the officers," Sergeant Haslup said in an interview. "The officers are treated pretty much like royalty by the kids. The kids love them." An estimated 3,000 people, mainly students from 31 elementary schools and their parents, attended the free one-hour program last night, police said. The Police Department and the school system sponsor the event.

"You don't need any chemicals of any sort in your mind or your body to have fun," Mr. Curtis told the youngsters.

"Remember, the reason you can enjoy this night is because you've decided and made the best decision ever, to live an alcohol- and drug-free life," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Kelley McGaffin, 10, a fifth-grader at Guilford Elementary School who attended the show with her mother, wore a black T-shirt that read "D.A.R.E. to keep kids off of drugs." Kelly said she's learned through D.A.R.E. not to use drugs.

Another fifth-grader, Ashley Kunz, 10, of Rockburn Elementary School, said the program works. "It helps keep kids off of drugs because it influences them not to use it," she said.

D.A.R.E. Officer Roch A. DeFrances said he and his colleagues talk about the dangers of drugs to fifth-graders, who are in transition from elementary to middle school, hoping to reach those who haven't begun to use drugs.

"We try as much as possible to be positive," he said. "We don't show them drug addicts or prisoners. It's not a Scared Straight type of thing."

The D.A.R.E officers are apparently needed. The 1992 Maryland Drug Survey found that 65.5 percent of county students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 reported having used beer or wine, and 20 percent said they began drinking alcohol at age 10 or younger.

D.A.R.E. "is a small piece of a much larger drug education puzzle," Mamie Perkins, supervisor of health education programs for county public schools, told the crowd.

Also appearing in the show were McGruff the Crime Dog, the Oriole Bird and Sayno and Drug-free, the Air Force mascots who wear falcon costumes.

The Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team performed precision routines, including tossing rifles around a member who stood in the center of a circle.

"If I told you one of my members was on drugs, would you take the chance and stand where I do?" the man in the center asked. "No," the audience responded.

High Flight, a musical group made up of Air Force members, also performed. When its lead singer, Nita DeShaizer sang Mariah Carey's "Hero," the crowd stood, moving from side to side, hands waving in the air.

Ms. DeShaizer particularly stressed the song's line, "A hero lies in you."

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