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Harst DAREs students to make good decisions

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

After 25 years of service, Bandera resident Arnold Harst retired from the Kerrville Police Department. Not surprisingly, he received an inevitable call from the Bandera County Sheriff's Office. Despite perks intended to sweeten the pot, Harst held off returning to law enforcement a subject close to his heart was brought up.

"They asked me, 'Are you still certified as a DARE officer'?" Harst said. He began working as soon as he could.

"I'm a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of the DARE program," he told participants of the Sheriff's Citizen Academy on Thursday, May 23. "It's been a true blessing."

While Harst's other duties and interests include TRIAD and the BCSO Explorer Program, it's clear his heart lies with Drug Abuse Resistance Education - or DARE, as it's commonly called.

Officers and administrators with the Los Angeles Police Department, in conjunction with the LA Unified School District, initiated the program in 1983. Prior to certification, DARE officers must undergo 80 hours of special training that includes child development, classroom management, teaching techniques and communication skills.

"The curriculum was designed to prevent drug use, gang membership in gangs and violent behavior by focusing on making good choices," Harst said. "The program is now available in all 50 states and territories of the United State, in addition to 37 countries. The DARE program reaches seven million students each year."

During its start-up period, the program received federal funding, but that essentially dried up after the terrorist attacks on 9-11, according to Harst. "However, smaller law enforcement departments continued the program because they realized how important it was," he said, adding, "However the original 15-week program has been cut back."

Lesson plans for the DARE program are updated every five years, in response to changes in statistical data, Harst said. For example, in 2007, a new curriculum for prescription drug abuse and over-the-counter drug abuse was introduced.

Additionally, lessons are targeted for specific ages and grade levels. In elementary schools, Harst doesn't wear his gunbelt. "In the early grades, we talk about latchkey kids, what to do if you're lost, appropriate behavior of strangers and relatives, dialing 9-1-1 and even what traffic signs mean," he said.

Later lesson plans include relationships, reading expressions and how to deal with bullying. "At this point we begin to emphasize the importance of making the right choices and decisions," Harst said. "This is the age when bad decisions on the part of kids can get them sent to jail."

High school students participating in the DARE program learn how to recognize and cope with feelings of anger without harming themselves or others - and without resorting to violence or using alcohol and drugs.

To enhance his effectiveness, Harst trained in children's crisis intervention, becoming the only officer in surrounding counties to receive this special training. "In the past year, I've been called upon three times to prevent kids from hurting themselves or others," he said. With seven children and one still at home, Harst feels "in turn with that age group." However, he has used the same techniques on other age groups when called upon to "talk down" a potential suicide or someone intent on committing murder.

Interestingly, a field trip to juvenile detention in Kerrville for high school DARE students resulted in "the quietest the class had been all year," Harst said.

When Deputy Matt Johnson, who also served as academy coordinator, introduced Harst to the class, he described him as "the best DARE officer in the state." Underscoring Johnson's words, Harst was recently selected to be one of only eight DARE mentors in the State of Texas.

Mentors are officers qualified to teach others to become DARE officers.

"It's been said that if a DARE officer stops one student from each graduating class from using drugs, he's been successful," Harst said, "But I'm greedy. I want one from each class. If I can keep students making good choices until they are 18, I have succeeded."

He also wants the DARE program to become self-sufficient. To that end, collection bins, sponsored by World Wear, for donated clothing, have been set up at New Life Resale Shop on FM 1283 and Trap's Resale Shop on Main Street in Bandera, as well as at the Assembly of God Church on Highway 16 South. "World Wear donates $50 to the DARE program for each container that's filled with clothes," Harst said.

Looking back on his career as a DARE officer, Harst said, "I have two graduates who are now captains in the US Navy and one who's a Congressional aide in Austin. I can't ask for anything more than that."

For additional information on the BCSO DARE program, call Harst at 830-796-4323.

For more information on the World Wear Project, visit http://worldwearproject.com.

Pictured: BCSO Deputy Arnold Harst introduced the DARE - 'It's a lion, not a bear!" - mascot, Darren, to a class at the Sheriff's Citizen Academy.