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Lackawanna may keep DARE in reduced form

Lackawanna is daring to keep DARE.

After deciding this month to cut the popular Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in its schools because of a recently passed budget that eliminated two police positions, Mayor Norman L. Polanski Jr. said the city will keep the program if city officials can find a way to divide the time of the police officer assigned to the duty.

"The program will exist, but it is going to be reduced," he said. "As long as I can get an officer in the streets more than I have him now, we can come to some common middle ground."

Polanski said he decided the program needed to continue after he talked about its merits with a school resource officer and saw the strong reaction in favor of the program from community members, who posted signs on their lawn in support of Officer Richard Zybert. But he also said the real question was not about merit, but money.

"Anytime you can have a program that grabs the attention of the kids, I don't want to touch that," he said. "I'm never opposed to this program, but I'm laying off two officers, and I need people in the streets. If I don't have money, I have to find resources for those I'm losing."

Police Chief James L. Michel agreed that losing the two police officers will hurt but said that the department will likely offer overtime.

"That is our primary responsibility," he said. "I hate to lose anybody, to be honest with you. When you lose two bodies, you lose two bodies. We're still going to have coverage out there. Everything will get covered, and the city will be protected."

Continuing the program will satisfy Warsaw Street resident Agnes Mulqueen. She has lived in Lackawanna for about 30 years and has seen the effect of drugs on Lackawanna youth.

"The kids have to know about drugs," she said. "Sometimes the parents don't bother with it."

She remembers a scene involving young kids in her neighborhood, which she said was generally "nice" compared with other parts of the city.

"The one time I was going to church," she said, "I saw two guys dealing drugs."

Toni Gechell grew up in Lackawanna and returns to visit. Walking her 3-year-old down Warsaw Street, she described the importance of reaching kids at young age.

"You get to them when they are 6, there's not much of a risk of them doing drugs," she said. "When they're eight, there's not much of a risk. But when they're 10, 12, [there is]."

Polanski said the current program is 40 weeks long and may be reduced to 25 weeks. He said a final decision will be made in the coming weeks after he consults with Michel and Public Safety Director Richard Startek.

Polanski said that when he met with Startek, he stressed the importance of dialogue between his office, the Police Department and community members.

"I said, 'A little dialogue would go a lot further than everybody running around putting up signs, bouncing off the walls. It would help to have a little conversation right now.' "

e-mail: cspecht@buffnews.com

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