CINCINNATI -- Twenty-two years ago, Ken Hohenberg was taken off the streets and put in the classroom to teach Kennewick students about the importance of staying away from drugs.
He was the Kennewick Police Department's first DARE officer, and today he's being recognized nationally for his continued support of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.
Hohenberg, who's been police chief for seven years, was named the 2010 DEA/DARE Law Enforcement Executive of the Year at the annual DARE training conference in Cincinnati, Ohio
Hohenberg said he was speechless when he got the call telling him he'd be receiving the national award. He also gets $1,000 for the department's DARE program.
"I didn't know what to say," he said. "It's kind of overwhelming."
The Drug Enforcement Administration sponsors the award with DARE to highlight the importance of law enforcement and prevention working together to make communities safe and drug-free.
Kennewick is one of only two law enforcement agencies in the Tri-Cities that continues to run a DARE program. Other departments eliminated the program because of budget cuts.
Each year at budget time, Hohenberg said he makes sure city leaders know how important it is to keep DARE going.
"I just firmly believe it's a good program," he said. "... I've never thought about cutting out DARE because it does make a difference."
DARE was founded in 1983 in Los Angeles and has been taught in 75 percent of the nation's school districts and in more than 43 countries around the world, according to the DARE website.
The lessons, taught by police officers to kids in kindergarten through 12th grade, teach students how to resist peer pressure and live productive lives free of drugs and violence, the website said.
In Kennewick, more than 1,000 fifth-graders go through the 10-week program each year.
The police department partners with the Kennewick School District in several ways, including having school resource officers in the high schools and teaching DARE in the elementary schools.
District spokeswoman Lorraine Cooper said officials appreciate the relationship they have with the Kennewick Police Department and "a lot of that has to do with the leadership of Ken Hohenberg."
"We really feel it's very important that our students get to know police officers as trusted adults that they can go to," she said. "The DARE program is just one more way that we have law enforcement officers in our schools. ... Developing that positive relationship with law enforcement is so important and it's really blossomed under Ken Hohenberg's leadership."
When DARE was started in Kennewick in 1988, it was a 17-week program taught to sixth-graders at the middle schools.
Hohenberg said he remembers walking onto the Park Middle School campus and having students say, "What are you doing here? Who got in trouble?"
But it didn't take long for them to get used to having him around campus and to realize officers aren't just around when people are in trouble.
Sgt. Ken Lattin, who was encouraged by Hohenberg to become the DARE officer when Hohenberg was promoted to sergeant, said working with students through DARE is a great way for officers to see the positive impact they can have with kids.
"Kids don't forget that," he said, adding that they often have former DARE students who are now adults approach them at their children's DARE graduations. "It's a big deal for them to introduce their child to their (past) DARE officer."
Hohenberg, who admits he was somewhat reluctant to switch from being a motorcycle patrol officer to the DARE officer, said he also realized he learned a lot from his two years with DARE, including public speaking.
But the benefit to the kids, including helping reinforce what their parents and schools are teaching them, is the driving force behind the program.
"Any type of prevention program you have is hard to measure ... but I really do think it makes a difference," Hohenberg said. "You really do have an impact and influence on students who make a connection between being a police officer and being a friend that may change their whole perception."
* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; email@example.com