The Informants

>From The Wall Street Journal 4/20/92. Permission to reprint applied for.

The Informants

In a Drug Program, Some Kids Turn In Their Own Parents

Police Teach DARE Classes, Get Tips From Students; Girl's Case Splits Town

`I Would Never Tell Again'

By Joseph Periera
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

SEARSPORT, Maine - It was a seemingly innocuous question Police Chief James Gillway posed one day last spring in a drug education class he teaches to fifth-graders at Searsport Elementary School.

Did the students know anyone who used drugs"

Most of the 11-year-olds didn't, but Crystal Grendell did. While she didn't speak up then, Crystal soon visited Chief Gillway to tell him that she knew two people who smoked marijuana.

Her mom and dad.

Within days, after pressing Crystal for details, officers obtained a search warrant for the Grendells' home in this sleepy seaside town of 2,500. Crystal was whisked away and hidden by police. Preston and Gail Grendell were arrested for growing 49 marijuana plants in their bedroom. Mrs. Grendell, 31, soon was fired from her jobs as a school bus driver and teacher's assistant, although the charge against her later was dropped. Mr. Grendell, a 30-year-old construction worker, pleaded guilty to cultivating marijuana.

A year later, Crystal is still troubled by the incident and the Grendells are trying to mend their frayed family bonds.

"I would never tell again," says Crystal, a once outgoing studentwho is now withdrawn and gets lower marks in school.

"Never. Never."

Though people are arrested for drug possession in big cities and small town every day, how Searsport police learned of the Grendells' marijuana use is at the heart of a controversy over DARE - or Drug Abuse Resistance Education - the most popular drug-education program in America. First offered in 1983 in about 50 Los Angeles elementary schools, the much-lauded program is now taught by local police officers, including Chief Gillway here, in 4,700 communities nationwide in nearly a quarter of all U.S. grade schools.

'Spies in Our Homes'

DARE has pitted students against parents in a handful of cases that critics find troubling. The dual role of police in DARE - who as teachers often confidants of pre-teen children, and then as law enforcement officers use information students tell them - raises civil-liberties and privacy issues, critics contend.

"This is the stuff of Orwellian fiction," says Gary Peterson, head of Parents Against DARE, a Fort Collins, Colo., group. "This is Big Brother putting spies in our homes."

Parents Against DARE which consists of about twenty families in the Fort Collins area, questions whether police can deliver an objective lesson about drugs. While members of the group are opposed to drug use by their children, some, who smoke marijuana, wonder if the minds of their DARE children are being poisoned against them. No DARE students have informed on Fort Collins parents.

Law enforcement officials say the criticism of DARE is overblown and unjustified. The instances of DARE students informing on parents are rare, especially considering the millions of children that the program reaches, says Sgt. Robert Gates, administrative officer for DARE America Inc., the program's national coordinator. Capt. Patrick Froehle, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department's DARE division, adds:"There are skeptics out there who think that this is a program to spy on families. That's simply not true. The main purpose is to curb drug use."

'Positive for Society'

Moreover, police insist they would be remiss not to act on information provided by children against their parents. Would it be better, they ask, to let a child continue to live with a drug user who might be neglecting - or even abusing - the child"

Drug use by parents can be very destructive to family life, notes Sgt. Gates. "In such environments, there are usually no morals, values or training for the child," he says. "My personal opinion is that an arrest is the best thing that could happen to that parent. Marijuana could lead to harder drugs, which in turn could ultimately lead to death. What may turn out to be negative for the parent is positive for society."

Students aren't allowed to mention names in DARE classes. And what occurs later between officer and child isn't any different from general crime reporting by private citizens. But even some police acknowledge having qualms about using tips from children against their families. "You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Sometimes I almost feel like a traitor," says Officer Anne Corcoran, a DARE instructor for the Boston Police Department. "I look into the children's eyes and I see them saying, 'How dare you" I confided in you and you let me down.'" Officer Corcoran says students have given her information about family members, but she won't give any details or say how often this has happened.

Patterned largely after a University of Southern California drug education model, DARE was among the first programs to attempt to discourage drug use by building self-esteem and helping kids develop skills to resist peer pressure. Many of the more than 100 other drug education programs use similar techniques.

Using police makes DARE more effective than other anti-drug programs, supporters say. DARE police not only teach children about the dangers of drugs, but also befriends students in the playground and in extra- curricular activities. "The experience of seeing a uniformed police officer as a loving, caring and concerned human being has to make a tremendously positive impression," says Chris Ringwalt, DARE analyst for the Research Triangle Institute, a private social policy research concern in North Carolina.

However, research on DARE's effectiveness is inconclusive. Recent surveys of about 1,800 sixth-and-seventh-graders conducted by the University of Illinois showed that DARE graduates tended to view drugs more negatively and police more positively, and get into less trouble at school, than those who didn't take DARE.

But studies of about 3,000 students in Kentucky in 1987 and 1988 found "no really compelling evidence" that DARE works, says Dr. Howard Sypher, an editor of a book detailing the research. Results showed that usage of marijuana, alcohol and tobacco among DARE students was about the same as other students.

No one knows exactly how many DARE students tip police to drug use by parents. Police don't compile national statistics and often aren't willing to volunteer information on cases. Moreover, parents who are charged usually want to avoid publicity. But calls to a number of police departments nationwide turned up at least a half dozen cases of children turning in their parents.

In two recent cases in Boston, children who had tipped police stepped out of their homes carrying DARE diplomas as police arrived to arrest their parents. A 10-year-old boy in Englewood, Colo., identified himself as "a DARE kid" when he called police to report his parents for using marijuana.

Darla Brummell, a 28-year-old registered nurse in Chickasha, Okla., was arrested Jan. 29 [1992] for possession of marijuana and related paraphernalia. Her daughter, a DARE student, had tipped police. Mrs.Brummell lost her job. "The wounds won't disappear like that," said Stephen Brummell, the girls stepfather, who was also charged. "It will take time to heal."

In another case, a professor at a small college in Iowa was arrested for possession of marijuana by police who were tipped by his DARE- tutored stepdaughter. The professor, who asks that he not be named, says he had to leave the state to find work after his arrest. "As a result of this act of turning us into the police," the professor told a judge, "an emotional door was closed [in the family] and she felt virtually alienated from her mother and has gone to live with her father."

The Grendell Case

For the Grendell family here in Searsport, the role of DARE in Crystal becoming an informant against her parents is not just a matter of private anguish, but public debate. A Maine House subcommittee recently heard testimony on the case as part of a broader inquiry into drug enforcement activities. Here in this working-class town 100 miles north of Portland, the incident has been a topic of spirited discussion, with opinion split over whether police acted properly.

In a column in a local newspaper, eight residents were asked recently, "Should children be encouraged to report their parents for growing marijuana"" Lauretta Seay agreed: "If the children are affected by it, yes, they should turn them in." But two others had mixed feelings and five others disagreed. "It reminds me of the former Soviet Union when people who weren't good communists were at risk of being turned in by their child," says Roxanne Morse, a high school teacher in Searsport.

Searsport school officials continue to support DARE, but won't discuss it. "As far as we're concerned," says Douglas Lockwood, the elementary school principal, "DARE is an extra-curricular activity that received school board approval. I don't think it's something for us to get involved in."

School board directors haven't discussed the Grendell case. But the issue may come up at the program's annual review in July, says Donald Shaw, a director. "Sure, cops want convictions, but at what price"" wonders Mr. Shaw, a former Searsport police officer.

Searsport began offering the DARE program to its fifth-graders two years ago. In many communities, supporters applauded the semester-long program for building bridges between children and police. Indeed, Crystal and many of her classmates quickly came to like 28-year-old Chief Gillway, who was then a sergeant. "For an officer, I thought he was pretty cool," recalls Crystal.

Going to the Police

When Chief Gillway asked the fifth-graders if they knew anyone who took drugs, "a couple of kids raised their hands," though not Crystal, recalls Julie Matthews, one of her classmates. The students weren't asked for names, and discussion turned into handling the pressure to experiment with drugs at parties.

But Crystal hadn't forgotten his question. Like all DARE instructors, Chief Gillway had encouraged students to speak to them privately outside class about anything troubling them. Keeping this in mind, a few days later, on April 29, Crystal walked the few blocks from school to the two-member police station to discuss the marijuana plants in her home.

Exactly how this conversation went that afternoon is a matter of disagreement. According to Chief Gillway, Crystal volunteered the information. "This is a good little girl just thinking of her family," he says, denying their after-school conversation "had anything to do with DARE." Crystal says she wanted her parents to stop smoking marijuana, although she had not told them that. She says Chief Gillway pressed her for details and assured her that "nothing would happen to my parents," which Chief Gillway disputes. The next day, Chief Gillway and two state drug agents interviewed Crystal for about an hour at school. That afternoon two Searsport policeman and four drug agents converged on the Grendell home. Tara, Crystal's then 8-year-old sister, who was alone in the house, was taken to a next-door neighbor. A few minutes later, in a move that added further controversy to the case, Crystal was placed in a police car as she got off the school bus and was driven off by police.

'She Told the Truth'

Inside the Grendells' house, police confiscated the foot-high marijuana plants. Experts estimate each plant, if allowed to grow to a full height of three feet, could produce about an ounce of smokable marijuana.

After searching for Crystal for hours, the Grendells finally found her about 9 P.M. at a house in a nearby town where police had taken her for safekeeping. Chief Gillway says police only wanted to "babysit" Crystal to thwart possible abuse of the girl. But the Grendells say it was wrong to take her away because they wouldn't have harmed her. Crystal told police she had never been hit by either parent. "It is our daughter whom we love, not the drugs," says Mrs. Grendell.

The Grendells hold no grudge against their daughter. "I can't blame Crystal for doing what she did," says Mr. Grendell. "She told the truth when asked questions by authorities. That's what I've always told her to do."

Though upset with DARE and police, the Grendells aren't without remorse. "We are to blame for getting Crystal into this mess," says Mrs. Grendell. "This would have never happened if we never smoked hemp." Both mother and father vow they will never use drugs again.

Mrs. Grendell maintains their drug use was a "social pastime", not unlike having a few beers." The Grendells says they were careful not to smoke pot in front of the children, and they kept most of the marijuana plants in a walk-in bedroom closet.

While conceding that her job as bus driver makes her marijuana use an added issue of concern, Mrs. Grendell says she was "all too aware of my responsibility." She says she never used marijuana before or while she was on the job. "The record will show that I was a bus driver for five years and I was never involved in an accident," Mrs. Grendell says, except once in 1987 when the bus slid a few yards off the road because of bad weather.

A Harder Life

The aftermath of the drug bust has been painful for the Grendells, who have lived here for 22 years. Within days of the marijuana bust, Mrs. Grendell lost her jobs at Searsport Head Start. She hasn't been able to find work since, and an attempt to start a second-hand clothing store flopped. The charges against her were dropped in exchange for a guilty plea in December by Mr. Grendell who was placed on a year's probation and kept his construction job thanks to a sympathetic supervisor.

Patrick Quinn, a former state social worker who is providing pro bono services to the Grendells, testified before a Maine House subcommittee hearing in January that Crystal is still disturbed by the incident. In what Mr. Quinn described as "a constant state of hyper vigilance," Crystal hides under the bed or in the closet when police are in the neighborhood. She frequently wakes up in fright. "The child's perception that she betrayed her parents must be dealt with in therapy," he says.

Mr. Quinn, who describes himself as a free-lance child protection worker, is also involved in an effort to stop low-flying helicopter surveillance of Maine residents by drug agents.

Paula Danforth, a friend of the Grendells, says Crystal used to play with her children when she visited in the past. Now "all she'll do is watch TV," Mrs. Danforth says.

Crystal herself says that as result of her experience, she doesn't "trust any adult outside of my parents" and "gets scared" whenever police drive by the house, wondering "if something else is going to happen." A one-time honor student, Crystal now gets many C's instead of mostly A's on her report cards.

The Grendells have hired an attorney and filed a tort claim notice, a precedent to a lawsuit. For now, the state isn't planning to take any action in the case. Officials note that the issue is clouded by conflicting testimony between police and the Grendells over whether Crystal was coerced into providing information and whether she needed protection from her parents. "It's tough investigating a situation with the two sides saying the other is lying," says state Rep. George Townsend, a member of the state House subcommittee.

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