A black spot in the distance soon became a helicopter circling low over the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, then settled gently in the grass. Emergency equipment and police cars lined the parking lot.
No, this wasn't a major disaster. It was the fourth annual reunion of the Drug & Alcohol Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program.The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office hosted the reunion Friday to honor students of the D.A.R.E. program, past and present. "The D.A.R.E. program focuses on training fifth-graders to resist drugs and gangs," said Sgt. Chris Bertram, D.A.R.E. supervisor.
D.A.R.E. officers are assigned three or four different schools for a 17-week period. "The officers go to lunch and recess, they bond with the kids," Bertram said. "There's a big change when the kids see the officers as human beings, as real people."
Sheriff Aaron D. Kennard implemented the program in 1992. He started with four officers and now there are seven. "It's the best program in the world," Kennard said.
Hundreds of children wearing T-shirts with the red D.A.R.E. logo mixed with the officers, enjoying hot dogs and ice cream.
"We just learned how to resist drugs, gangs and peer pressure," D.A.R.E. graduate David Selck, 11, said. "At the end of the program we had to write an essay about what we learned, and they showed us an awesome movie."
Tom Trujillo has been with the program for four years. "I really love it. I don't think it's worth it - I know it's worth it," Trujillo said as four little girls came up to hug him. "I'm proud of my kids. I think of them as mine. I love kids."
Some of Trujillo's students are now in junior high. "They say they're drug-free and gang-free," he said proudly.
The Jazz Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog and the crash dummies were visiting with the D.A.R.E. guests. The crowd cheered as the Jazz Bear waved from high atop a fire engine lift. Other visitors splashed in the Fitness Center pool.
The reunion was a "team effort," Bertram said.
D.A.R.E. organizers want to teach children the consequences of drugs and gang violence. "We are committed and looking to getting it into the junior high schools," Bertram said. "If we save one kid, that's all that matters."