Joshua Reeves is an assistant professor of new media communications at Oregon State University and the author of Citizen Spies: The Long Rise of America's Surveillance Society (NYU Press), from which this piece is adapted

In April 1990, a guidance counselor at a Searsport, Maine, elementary school summoned a fifth-grader to her office. The counselor asked the 11-year-old, Crystal Grendell, whether her parents used drugs. After the counselor reassured her that "nothing would happen," Crystal eventually admitted that her parents occasionally smoked pot. At school a few days later, Crystal was greeted by three D.A.R.E. police officers, who interrogated her about her parents' drug use. The officers threatened Crystal, saying her parents would be arrested if she didn't tell them everything she knew about her mother and father's recreational drug habits. The officers then warned her against telling her parents about their encounter, claiming that "often parents beat their children after the children talk to police."

Scared, the girl agreed to carry out a spy mission on her family. The D.A.R.E. officers instructed Crystal to count her parents' marijuana plants and to provide details about their schedules and the layout of their home. When Crystal reported back to the cops, they informed her that her house would be raided and that she would not be able to stay there that night.

After the police raided the house and found several marijuana plants, Crystal's parents were arrested and her mother was fired from her jobs as a teacher's assistant and a bus driver. The D.A.R.E. officers had failed to make arrangements for where Crystal and her younger sister would stay while their parents were in police custody, and when the police couldn't find any nearby family members, they had to take the girls to the house of a distant relative.

Feeling that the police and school officials had manipulated her, Crystal—who was once outgoing and gregarious—became socially withdrawn and suffered from psychological distress. Reflecting on how the incident had turned her life upside down, Crystal later told The Wall Street Journal: "I would never tell again.…Never. Never." When a federal judge awarded Crystal a civil judgment against the D.A.R.E. officers, he issued a strong condemnation of how they had turned the fifth-grader into an informant against her own family: "This type of coercive extraction of indicting information from an 11-year-old girl about her parents is reprehensible behavior unworthy of constitutional protection."
At the turn of the 20th century, "Boy Police" patrols sprouted throughout the United States. As crime rose in many of the nation's cities, burgeoning urban police departments calculated that by recruiting a large number of young boys, they could maximize their forces' presence while also enticing youth to choose the side of law and order.

Consider the Des Moines Boy Police, formed in 1909 when the state of Iowa passed laws against shooting fireworks at Fourth of July celebrations. Because the Des Moines police were unable to enforce this new law over the entire city, they formed a company of Boy Police. Emphasizing "the sacred necessity of keeping the laws of the State," the chief organizer told her new recruits that if they ensured the other kids would keep the peace—and if they agreed to avoid early partying and shooting fireworks—they would be appointed "special policemen." A supporter of the project claimed that this "idea of authority captivated the boys at once.…With acumen which would have put to shame many a regular detective these little fellows went to work to track down every specimen of explosive which was being secreted for the big celebration. They told all their young friends that they would be obliged to obey the law, or else be arrested."

The patrols were also encouraged to "track down" other youthful offenses, even ones as petty as swearing, "defacing" sidewalks with chalk, placing obstructions on fire-escapes, or mixing ash and garbage. By policing their peers' conduct, one observer declared, the Boy Police would force youth to "absorb the lessons of integrity, uprightness, and obedience" that policing teaches, thus "promoting those qualities of manliness, self-reliance, and order."
In 1915, to complement its Boy Police program, New York City recruited 500 teenagers to try out for a new girls' patrol. After six months, 50 of these girls were selected for the program, and each Coppette was given a beat to monitor. The New York Times chronicled the activities of one of these girls, "Captain" Celia Goldberg, as she demonstrated the daily work of a "girl cop." Outfitted with a blue cap and a brass-buttoned blue coat, young Captain Goldberg roamed her beat, looking for illegal and unsafe activities. Responding to a question about whether her fellow citizens took her seriously when she tried to enforce the law, Goldberg remarked: "They see this uniform and they know it means the law."
Schools are outfitted with countless mechanisms for surveillance and correction, from classroom design to detention to student tracking to exams. To supplement these tools, police officials and allied institutions have introduced more flexible programs of surveillance.

The most influential and far-reaching of these efforts has been D.A.R.E., which turns kids into weapons in the war on drugs. Founded in 1981 by Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, D.A.R.E. emerged in the wake of Project SMART (Self Management and Resistance Training), an early intervention program developed at the University of Southern California.

Project SMART was a collaborative effort between the university and administrators at L.A.'s public schools; police simply did not fit into the plan. Gates, hoping to build a closer relationship with the city's school system, approached Project SMART and offered to help by bringing officers into the schools. Alarmed by the idea of armed, uniformed agents of the law acting as mentors for students, Project SMART declined. Undeterred, Gates developed his own elementary school program that supplemented the SMART curriculum with police participation.

Displeased, officials from Project SMART accused D.A.R.E. of "ripp[ing] off our materials," declaring that "they took a version of the program that we had radically revamped because it wasn't working." Yet D.A.R.E. quickly dwarfed Project SMART, gaining a national presence during the 1980s. Benefiting from massive drug-war grants, D.A.R.E. spread to middle schools in 1986 and high schools in 1988.

Now active in 75 percent of American school districts and in more than 43 countries worldwide, and with annual expenditures exceeding $1 billion, D.A.R.E. is today one of the most significant youth governance initiatives in the United States. While its central mission is still to "provide children with the information and skills they need to live drug and violence free lives," in recent years it has added new areas of focus: internet security, bullying, school safety, and "community safety" now rank among D.A.R.E.'s core concerns.
Keep Safe, Keep Away, Keep Telling
This message begins in kindergarten. For instance, in the Child Safety Coloring and Activity Book, distributed by the Department of Justice in partnership with D.A.R.E., cartoon characters instruct students how and when to snitch on their peers and parents. The little book's most frequently touted theme is "KEEP SAFE, KEEP AWAY, KEEP TELLLING." Kids are encouraged to "tell" if someone "bothers" them online, if they see someone being picked on at school, and, above all, if they see evidence of drugs, weapons, or gang activity.
Beyond D.A.R.E., Campus Crime Stoppers—the youth division of the national Crime Stoppers organization—offers cash rewards for students to snitch on their peers for drug offenses. Different rewards are meted out based upon the severity of the crime: While a student who reports marijuana possession might receive $200, cocaine could net you $500. In some jurisdictions, students can be paid as much as $2,500. Some recent rewards divvied out by the Atlanta-area Campus Crime Stoppers include a $200 reward for turning in a classmate who possessed hydrocodone pills, a $75 reward for snitching on a student who made a bong out of a Gatorade bottle, and even several small rewards for ratting out students for skipping class. If a student is bashful about snitching over the phone, tips can be emailed, texted, or submitted on Crime Stoppers' mobile app, TipSubmit.
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