By Mike Peterson
My wife and I have the pleasure of volunteering weekly at the Salt Lake Valley Juvenile Detention Center. This has been a bittersweet experience in which we have been engaged for several years, and has opened our eyes to the many challenges facing our youth today. Many of these troubled youth are good kids who have been pressured into making bad decisions. We are convinced that if the youth had been exposed to the decision-making skills taught in the Cottonwood Heights Police Department’s "D.A.R.E." (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and "Keeping It REAL" (Refuse, Explain, Avoid, Leave) programs, at a younger age, they may have avoided some common pitfalls.
As a city councilman, a father, and a grandfather, I applaud the efforts of our local police department for sincerely caring about our youth and being proactive in implementing the D.A.R.E. program. This program curriculum not only addresses drug abstinence, but also how to cope with violence, bullying, internet safety, and other high risk behaviors. All these issues are regrettably part of the lives of our youth today.
The program was taught for many years by recently-retired CHPD Officer Mike Galieti. While attending many of the D.A.R.E. graduations, I could see and feel the impact of the program’s teachings and felt reassured that the youth are better prepared to deal with the challenges of substance abuse, bullying, and other destructive behaviors. I also witnessed the tremendous trust and respect the youth gained for our local police officers. The youth quickly learned that our police officers care about them and that they are there to help, rather than just dole out speeding tickets and take people to jail. During Officer Galieti’s retirement party a couple months ago, Mayor Cullimore stated, “There is not another officer in this department that is as well-known as Mike.” This is a great tribute not only to Mike, but the entire D.A.R.E. program.
In talking with Officer Jeff Potter, Officer Galieti's D.A.R.E. replacement, he stated, “After being in the schools for just a short time, I cannot go anywhere in the area without a young person coming up to me to say ‘hi’!” He also mentioned that when he was first assigned to this program he was nervous. Most of his police career was tied to S.W.A.T. and tactical police training, and Officer Potter had never participated in anything quite like this before. After 20 minutes in just one class, he realized how much being in the classroom meant to the kids. The youth appreciated and enjoyed what was being taught and were full of questions and a desire to learn.
After the end of a recent series of classes they all offered Officer Potter a big “Thank You!”
Officer Potter especially enjoys teaching seventh-graders, understanding that the youth are very impressionable and feel an intense pressure to belong. This critical juncture is when some teens start experimenting with drugs and alcohol and making troublesome decisions. Officer Potter went on to explain that this is the time to help them understand that it is OK to say “no” and, most importantly, give them the tools to make good decisions. It’s an opportunity to strengthen and empower them to be a positive influence to their peers. Officer Potter ended our conversation by saying, “I have had more fun in this past school year interacting with the youth than I think I’ve had my entire police career.” He also added that his experience might have a greater impact, too.
The Cottonwood Heights Police Department’s D.A.R.E program is taught to all fifth-graders at Butler Elementary, Canyon View Elementary, Ridgecrest Elementary, Bella Vista Elementary, and Oakdale Elementary. The “Keeping It REAL” program is taught to all seventth-graders at Butler Middle School. The outstanding efforts of Officers Galieti and Potter have resulted in the graduation of nearly 5,000 students since implementing the D.A.R.E. program in Cottonwood Heights in 2008. I extend a heartfelt thank you to our officers and police department for truly caring for our youth.