The Coon Rapids Police Department has a new DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer.
Officer Briana Johnson, who graduated Feb. 7 from the 12-day Minnesota DARE officer training program put on by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), will take over from Officer Interna Kim, who has taken on a new assignment.
Johnson has been with the Coon Rapids Police Department for more than five years and before that, she spent a year with the South Lake Minnetonka Police Department.
She joins the department’s three other DARE officers – Ken Young, the longest serving DARE officer in the department, Autumn Nelson and Matt Wilberg.
Johnson will be the DARE officer at Hamilton and Adams elementary school, teaching the 10-week session two days a week in the fall.
Wilberg also teaches DARE in the fall at Epiphany Catholic School and Morris Bye Elementary School, while Young and Nelson are DARE instructors in the spring at Hoover and Eisenhower and Mississippi and Sand Creek elementary schools, respectively.
According to Capt. Cary Parks, Coon Rapids Police Department DARE coordinator, to be part of the DARE program, an officer has to have been with the department for at least three years.
Johnson was selected to replace Kim following an application process – there were two applicants – and an interview, Parks said.
The BCA training session did not include just DARE officers from Minnesota, but from other parts of the country as well, including Oregon and Wyoming.
The national DARE organization schedules the training sessions so there is no overlap; Coon Rapids has sent DARE officers for training in South Dakota in the past, Parks said.
According to Parks, the DARE officers teach the curriculum to fifth-graders twice a week and spend the other two days of their four days on/three days off schedule on patrol.
The DARE curriculum is adapted over time to meet changing needs, Parks said.
When he was a DARE officer for five years before his promotion to sergeant, the DARE program ran 17 weeks, he said.
Now it is 10 weeks in length and a new curriculum, which the officers have been trained to teach, began this school year, Parks said.
“We have had a tremendous partnership with District 11 over the years,” he said.
Indeed, the DARE unit is part of the school district’s fifth-grade health curriculum, Parks said.
“Police officers are not going into the schools and interrupting other classes,” he said.
But while the DARE curriculum may change with the times, its core purpose remains the same – teaching self-esteem and decision making; saying no to drugs, alcohol and tobacco;p and dealing with bullying as well as peer and media pressures, according to Parks.
The DARE program has been taught by the police officers in Coon Rapids elementary schools since 1989.
“There have been many, many DARE officers in the department,” Parks said.
The officers are able to give the students and their parents correct information about drug, alcohol and tobacco issues in the community because they see them while on patrol every day, he said.
DARE officers can also be a resource for schools and parents on drug use and chemical dependency issues as well as what drugs look like, Parks said.
And for the students, the DARE officer talks to them about making good choices, finding good friends and staying out of trouble, he said.
“The program is also a great community policing tool for the department,” he said.
Following the DARE session, a graduation ceremony takes place at each school.
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]