Great Bend police officer Mark Bretches, who heads the department’s DARE program, has a new ride. In place of the bright red Mustang that kids once associated with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, Bretches now drives to Great Bend schools in a bright red, 2010 GMC Sierra truck with four-wheel-drive.
Tricked out with DARE artwork, red police lights and touches of chrome, this truck is every bit as head-turning as the Mustang it replaced, Bretches said. And, with dual pipes, "it purrs." Make no mistake, however, this vehicle has an important role to play in law enforcement.
DARE is a national program that takes law enforcement officers into classrooms. The curriculum is much more than lectures to "just say no" to drugs, Bretches said.
"It reinforces the message to make wise decisions," he said. Students get advice on choosing friends. They learn some ways to refuse drugs and alcohol, and how to resolve conflicts with their peers.
The Great Bend Police Department’s three DARE officers, Bretches, Billy Widiger and Jefferson Davis, spend an hour a week in fifth-grade classrooms, and by the end of the school year they have taught the DARE curriculum to every fifth grader in Great Bend’s public schools, and those at the Central Kansas Christian Academy. (The Barton County Sheriff’s Office has a DARE program that goes to other schools in the county.)
"This truck is really a tool for us to use to interact with the kids, and it’s also a billboard for our program. The kids love it," Bretches said. "The Mustang was a great car, but we were borrowing a truck or van once or twice a week just to haul things."
DARE has several special events for kids, including a DARE graduation ceremony, and there are always helium tanks for balloons, and boxes of various supplies to tote, he said.
As school liaison officer, Bretches is often called to spearhead other community relations activities in addition to DARE. He’s involved in America’s Promise, meeting monthly with third and four graders to mentor them; Youth Academy for grades 7 and 8; Community Youth Forum at Great Bend High School and the Alternative Learning Center; College to Community Day with Barton Community College; and the City of Great Bend’s visits to students who have left to attend college.
While the effectiveness of DARE is sometimes questioned, Bretches said these positive interactions with law enforcement are important, and the program provides them with "correct and accurate information."
"We’re giving them the tools that they need to make those wise decisions."