By Karen Butterfield
Missourian Staff Writer
A nearly five-year veteran of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department has taken on a new role as a D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer.
Deputy James O’Fallon joins Cpl. James Harden, who has been teaching the classes for three years.
The two visit 18 schools in the county and one just outside the county, in Richwoods. They teach mostly fifth-grade students how to make positive choices, not only in saying no to drugs, but in having the confidence to make their own choices.
“D.A.R.E. used to be really drug-specific,” Harden said. “Now we get to teach kids to think for themselves and give them the power to be comfortable having their own mind and making their own decisions so when they’re in a drug situation, they can do that. We’re teaching them to make safe and responsible decisions overall.”
O’Fallon said much of the curriculum focuses on risk and consequence, which impacts every part of life.
The officers thanked the community and organizations that support the program.
“Without their help, we wouldn’t have the funds to do it,” Harden said.
Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton added that his department is proud of the work of the D.A.R.E. officers and the impact they have on the lives of students.
“Investment in youth is so critical,” he said.
Pelton added collaboration with schools, not limited to the D.A.R.E. program, is important to the department.
“We thank the faculty, staff and parents, who allow us to be part of the school community,” Pelton said.
During his tenure at the Sheriff’s Department, O’Fallon has trained in crisis intervention and is a certified field training officer.
With a background in coaching gymnastics and in wedding photography, O’Fallon said he decided to become an officer after watching the toll drugs took on his own family.
“A close family member of mine was addicted to heroin for several years, which almost lead to his death,” he said. “The immediate toll it took on my family was evident. Several family members felt for quite some time that they had failed him, including myself.”
Through a strong support system and determination, his family member has beat the addiction.
“Seeing my family and sitting with him while he detoxed was extremely difficult and opened my eyes to the extensive toll drugs can have on everything,” he said.
O’Fallon said he loves working with children, and the D.A.R.E. position is an extension of that.
At Planet Gymnastics, where he taught, he was co-head of the daycare program and was in charge of several classes and programs.
O’Fallon, who lives in Union, said he loves Franklin County and Union, and looks forward to giving back to the youth “who will be the future of this county.”
Cpl. James Harden has been with the sheriff’s department since 2004.
He began his career as a detention deputy and then was a road patrol deputy. Since 2008 he has been a SWAT team operator and three years ago, he became a defensive tactics instructor.
Harden has been a D.A.R.E. instructor and part of the traffic safety unit since 2015.
A graduate of Sullivan High School, Harden has coached a little league baseball team there and has coached fifth- through seventh-grade boys basketball for Spring Bluff.
He was an assistant youth group leader for Sullivan Christian Church.
Harden has more than 700 hours of continuing education courses for law enforcement and has taken part in the Missouri Sheriff’s Association Training Academy.
Harden said it’s important for youth to have positive interaction with law enforcement.