Chester schools’ private guards can’t teach, get training in D.A.R.E.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, whose office oversees D.A.R.E. training in South Carolina.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, whose office oversees D.A.R.E. training in South Carolina.

Contrary to Chester County school officials’ plans, private security officers hired to replace sheriff’s deputies in county schools can’t teach the D.A.R.E. program the district’s current school resource officers use, the director of the program’s state training center says.

The school district last week hired a Columbia security company to replace four sheriff’s deputies working as school resource officers with nine private security officers – one for each of the district’s nine campuses. In announcing the move Monday, school officials said the security officers provided by Defender Services “will also receive D.A.R.E. training.”

But only certified law enforcement officers can take D.A.R.E. training and teach the classes, said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, whose department took over training for the program when state D.A.R.E. funding was cut more than a decade ago.

“Security officers, security guards are not eligible,” he said. “D.A.R.E. is a proven program that works, but these security guards cannot take the training or teach it.”

D.A.R.E. – Drug Abuse Resistance Education – is a copyrighted program that requires police officers to take a two-week training course that only his office is licensed to teach in the state, Lott said.

The program has evolved beyond its initial goal of keeping kids from taking drugs into a program focused on making good decisions in all aspects of life. It addresses substance abuse, gangs, respect for others, bullying, violence of all kinds and healthy living.

In South Carolina, the Chester County Sheriff’s Office is one of 25 law enforcement agencies that teach D.A.R.E., according to the program’s website. While used at many schools nationwide, the program is not mandatory. Schools in nearby York and Lancaster counties do not use it.

Efforts to reach school leaders and Defender Services officials on how the new security officers would receive D.A.R.E. training and implement it in the schools have been unsuccessful this week.

Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood has criticized the decision to replace his deputies, saying security officers have far less training than school resource officers and that not having police in schools will make schools less safe.

“Sheriff Lott has made it clear that these security officers can’t get the D.A.R.E. training and can’t teach D.A.R.E., but my officers have the training and use it,” Underwood said. “This is one more reason this is not a good decision for safety.”

In 2013, Underwood and school officials asked the Chester County Council for enough money to place a school resource officer in each county school, but they were rebuffed.

The schools’ decision to hire private security could result in Underwood’s losing the four deputies, if the County Council grants district officials’ request to spend the $101,000 it has paid the four deputies in schools on private security instead.

The County Council begins working on its 2015-16 budget on Monday.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065