Brown County denies controversial proposal to fund D.A.R.E.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – Brown County lawmakers voted down a proposal Wednesday that would’ve added $100,000 dollars to the 2017 budget to fund an extra officer at the D.A.R.E. program next year.

D.A.R.E. recently faced financial setbacks due to criminal misconduct by a former officer who embezzled tens of thousands from the program. Future funding for D.A.R.E. has also recently been compromised because the program’s main fundraiser— parking cars around Lambeau Field on game day— was cut off as the new Titletown District took over the former parking lot.

A proposal to use taxes to fund the program is uncommon. D.A.R.E. is generally funded by grants and donations. The annual cost of employing one D.A.R.E. officer and supporting the program in Brown County is $125,000. When Tom DeWane of the county board proposed funding for the second officer, Sheriff John Gossage said he appreciated the gesture, but does not actually think the funds are necessary—at least not yet.

“As a constitutional officer, I don’t think it’s fair to use taxpayer funded dollars towards those efforts for another officer when we can look for other funding mechanisms in the meantime,” Gossage told Action 2 News. “We have $627,000 in that fund, so we have enough to sustain that for about five years.”

Lisa Mascolo, who is a certified addictions coach, spoke before the board to persuade them away from funding D.A.R.E. Mascolo told Action 2 News she hopes that by providing the board with different program options, she will not look like someone who does not support officers and the hard work they do. “I always want to support the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, but I don’t feel that this is the proper way to do it,” said Mascolo. “D.A.R.E. has been proven time and again on the national and local stages to be ineffective. I see it in my coaching sessions. It’s just not working.”

Others are against giving D.A.R.E. tax dollars after two people—former D.A.R.E. Officer Kevin Vanden Heuvel and addictions counselor Early Fuller—were convicted this year of stealing more than $55,000 from the drug prevention program (officials have told Action 2 News in past interviews that the amount stolen is likely much higher).

“There is no way our community as taxpayers should have to put any more money towards that program for an oversight,” said Candace Siebert, and intervention specialist for Family Recovery Services.

Mascolo and Siebert asked the board to consider using their $100,000 to fund a different non-profit that uses “a more modern approach to curb addiction.”

They brought two local recovery advocates before the board, Anthony Alvarado of Appleton, and Douglas Darby of Suamico. The two started the non-profit Rise Together and have quickly become local faces for addiction recovery and support—going into high schools all over northeast Wisconsin and sharing their experiences, and also connecting teens with mentors.

“I’m not telling you that ‘we are the solution, we are the answer,’” said Darby. “We are not here to compete with the D.A.R.E. program. We just want to show people that there are different resources out there committed to this area and want to become well-established in these high schools so that kids see hope for the future.”

Darby was heavily addicted to opioids six years ago and robbed two Brown County pharmacies. After a stint in prison, making a full recovery and apologizing to the people he hurt, he says he wishes Brown County would invest in mental health care at prisons—and consider using programs like Rise Together alongside D.A.R.E.

“There’s a place for the badge and I respect that,” Darby told Action 2 News, “But sometimes teens need someone wearing these clothes and telling relateable stories and not feel ashamed to tell someone, ‘yeah, I’m struggling right now.’”

Alvarado told Action 2 News he doesn’t believe recovery comes from using scare tactics and photos of a teen with a needle in their arm, which can be triggering for people faced with addiction. “We’re facing an epidemic here, and we all are responsible for doing something about it,” he said.

Gossage told Action 2 News he does believe the D.A.R.E. program works and is effective in Brown County. He did not comment on the proposal that additional anti-drug programs in schools would be beneficial.