Deputy named DARE officer of year
With 23 years as a DARE officer, Deputy Chris Griffith is pretty sure he has the most experience teaching “resistance skills” to fifth-graders of any officer across the country – or the world, as the program is international.
Now, he has a plaque to prove he is the “DARE Officer of the Year” in Nevada.
He received the award March 22 at the state DARE officers’ convention in Winnemucca.
“It was a secret and a complete surprise,” he said in an interview Thursday from the office he shares with Youth Services Officer Teresa Duffy.
With 34 years in law enforcement, Griffith, 59, said he is a big believer in prevention.
DARE is an acronym for Drug Abuse Resistance Education which is what Griffith and Duffy teach to every fifth-grader in the Douglas County school system every year.
“I would rather teach kids to behave than arrest them and hope they wake up and fly right,” he said.
“I totally believe in prevention and getting kids ready for challenges,” he said. “It’s a guarantee that somebody somewhere is going to confront children about drugs. Kids in the past didn’t have the skills.
In addition to DARE, the Youth Services Office teaches A Fighting Chance to educate children about abduction prevention and GREAT, Gang Resistance Education and Training, for seventh-graders.
Griffith became a DARE officer in Orange County, Calif., in 1984, and joined the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in 1995.
“I’m the oldest, longest, still-standing DARE officer in the world,” Griffith said. “I couldn’t tell you the number of kids I shake hands with, pat on the back or hand out diplomas to.”
Griffith said there is nothing he would rather do.
“I’d teach in a tent if I had to,” he said.
He plans to retire Aug. 1, but is looking at continuing as a youth services officer on a part-time contract.
“I’m a huge believer in education,” he said. “I have a master’s degree and a teaching certificate. Teaching runs in the family. My mother was a teacher, my father was a doctor, but taught at medical school. My wife Yvette teaches at Eagle Valley Middle School.”
Griffith gave credit for the programs’ success to the school district and Sheriff Ron Pierini.
Active in state and national DARE officers’ organizations, Griffith hears stories about districts and communities that cut the drug education program because of budget shortages.
In the long run, it’s cheaper to keep the programs going, Griffith said.
“If you lock up one kid for a year, that’s $30,000,” he said. “For that, I can fund a program and half an officer.”
Griffith said 80 percent of the school districts in the United States offer DARE programs. The communities which drop DARE often regret it after a couple of years.
“If you wait for drugs to be a problem, then start the DARE program again, it’s a catch-up thing,” he said. “You’re chasing the problem and you might never catch up.”
Griffith said Pierini’s commitment to the youth services program is why Douglas County has a successful prevention rate.
“We’re the only county in the state that meets with every kid in the school district for three years in a row – fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grades,” he said. “If you lose your kids, you don’t have a community. You’re only as strong as your kids.”