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Back to Archives | Back to September 2005 Contents 

Crime Prevention and Community Programs: Drug Education for Youth

By Walter McNeil, Chief of Police, and Danielle Davis, Program Coordinator, Tallahassee, Florida, Police Department

ased on an analysis of calls for service, statistical data, and officer observations, it became apparent to members of the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) that the youth who were residing in the Weed and Seed neighborhoods in Tallahassee needed early intervention to combat the growing problem of drug abuse, gang indoctrination, and peer pressure. Weed and Seed is a federally funded program designed to weed out crime and drugs in impoverished neighborhoods and seed positive programs and development. Tallahassee Police Department’s Weed and Seed program was federally recognized in 1996. The agency has three target areas designated by income and crime statistics.

The hopeful answer to the growing problem has become the Drug Education for Youth (Defy) program. Although established in 2003 at TPD, the Defy program is not a new program. It was actually started by the Department of the Navy approximately 11 years ago and subsequently adopted by Weed and Seed. The issue for the Tallahassee Police Department was customizing the program and getting it started locally. Residents of the Weed and Seed neighborhoods historically did not seek aid or resources from the police department. Therefore, the program had to be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the community and to get the residents to accept and support the initiative.

The Defy program, designed for children 9-12 years of age, is intended to give the target audience life saving skills and tools to combat drugs, gangs, and alcohol abuse. In addition, youth learn teamwork, conflict resolution, and decision-making. The three goals of Defy are as follows:

  • To foster positive, meaningful relationships between youth and adult role models

  • To deliver life skills training

  • To deter drug use and gang involvement in the Tallahassee community

The program is fully funded as a component of TPD’s Weed and Seed grant with a $10,000 annual budget.

The Tallahassee Police Department’s Defy program is a 10-month initiative broken down into two phases. The first phase consists of a summer leadership camp. During this phase, children and adult mentors spend a week together building relationships, going on field trips, and discussing drug use and gang involvement topics as well as developing self-management skills.

In phase 2, the children meet twice a month with their assigned mentors. The topics emphasized in phase 1 are reaffirmed with more detail. Because Defy mentors are not meant to serve as replacements for parents, parental involvement is vital to the success of the program. Parents are encouraged to set good examples, to become positive role models, and to stay actively involved throughout both phases.

Once the 10-month program is complete, participants are referred to follow-up programs either at school or in the community to continue application of the goals and objectives of the Defy program. To monitor the continued success of the youth and the subsequent success of the Defy program, the program coordinator periodically initiates contact with youth who are no longer in the program.

Police had to take several steps before the Defy program could begin in Tallahassee. First, a coordinator for the program had to be selected. A TPD crime prevention officer serves as coordinator and is assisted by the Weed and Seed coordinator. Because the Weed and Seed program was already successful in lower economic areas in the city, the agency decided to use those community liaisons as conduits for Defy. Once the coordinator was in place, the following steps had to be completed:

  • Obtain a commitment from a military partner. Because local National Guard units were being activated for the War in Iraq, the Florida A&M University’s ROTC program was chosen as the military partner. This connection created another partnership between the police department and the university system.

  • Coordinate a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. attorney’s office, Florida A&M University’s ROTC program, and the Tallahassee Police Department.

  • Attend a Defy training workshop sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Weed and Seed program.

  • Secure a camp facility. The Florida A&M University campus is used as the host site for the summer camps and other activities.

  • Create a budget proposal. The established budget is $10,000 annually and funds 40 participants.

Once the objectives were met, the recruitment of mentors and students began. For Tallahassee, the traditional methods of recruitment were not successful. Press releases were sent to the media, television interviews were conducted, and flyers were posted and distributed at the Weed and Seed Safe Havens. Yet there was little interest in the program at first. The program coordinator canvassed the neighborhood for several days and spoke with families to convince them of the program’s worthiness.

The initial response for officer participation was also slow. The coordinator finally sought out five highly motivated, well-respected officers and convinced them to come on board. Once officers recognized the benefits of the program, namely mentorship of youth to produce crime reduction, more signed up. During the first year, 20 mentors participated in the program. Positive peer recognition also encouraged participation. Currently, the program has 12 mentors who are dedicated to the success of the youth participants, the community, and the program itself.

Each month, at least two Defy activities are coordinated and implemented. One activity is instructional in nature, which is followed by a separate but related event. For example, when the youth were presented with community service and taught its importance, the two-hour classroom instruction was followed by a site visit to the senior center. There, the students interacted with senior citizens by playing bingo and providing entertainment. During the Thanksgiving holiday, program participants distributed food baskets to the needy, providing the students with an understanding of the importance of giving back to the community.

The goals of structured activities are to spend quality time with youth while exposing them to events and activities they would otherwise not experience. To that end, Defy youth and mentors have visited nature trails and learned to fish. A field trip to the Challenger Center afforded the students the opportunity to meet an astronaut. Youth also participate in team events such as bowling and relay races. Field trips and community service events are both additions to the initial Defy program.

In addition, tutorial time has also been added when the need to provide the youth with educational assistance was recognized. Many participants of the program were failing academically. With the addition of tutorials, mentors spend a great deal of time imparting basic educational lessons and focusing on homework assignments. Defy mentors make site visits to local schools and maintain contact with the teachers of the Defy participants. Extra tutorial time is also available before scheduled meetings for students who have additional needs.

All mentors are trained on the rules of the Defy Program as outlined by the U.S. Department of Justice and all related subject matter. In 2003 the program coordinator and five mentors attended a Defy train-the-trainer workshop in Orlando, Florida. The mentors and coordinator are responsible for training any new mentor who enters the program.

The constant, consistent interaction with potentially wayward youth has made a tremendous difference in the lives of those students who have participated in the program. Parents have become fans of both the Defy program and the Tallahassee Police Department. They praise the program’s ability to offer services and sponsor events that their children would otherwise not have been exposed to and enjoy. Many parents sought to continue the program for their children. However, the rules established by the Department of Justice prohibit participation for more than one year. Therefore, it is critical that students who wish to continue are referred to other school or community-based programs.


From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 9, September 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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