Deputy Barry Whitfield gestures, smiles, and emphasizes the word "kids" every several seconds.
"You can tell I get excited when I talk about this," said the crime prevention officer for the McDuffie County Sheriff's Office. Whitfield was excited when his work led him from Florida to Thomson 10 years ago, and he is excited still, on the eve of Red Ribbon Week 2011. More than a decade ago he was an undercover officer for a Florida police department.
He was setting up reserve drug stings, sending people to jail, and then seeing those same people back in the same situations two months later. "I just didn't feel like I was making a difference," he said. "And I got back into crime prevention and working with kids in the community."
At the McDuffie department, he said, Sheriff Logan Marshall asked him to coordinate a crime prevention program. Whitfield accepted, but has not been alone in that effort. "Everyone joins in," he said.
Whitfield has worked with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, and more recently with the Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety (CHAMPS) program. He's part of the Night Out Against Crime night, which this year held community gatherings in Thomson and in Dearing.
Through all those programs, he delivers a similar assurance to "kids." "I stress positive activities," he said. He tells kids they can succeed in today's world, that they have choices. He shows gradeschoolers some of the drugs and drug-related items they should avoid. Some students have seen those items.
Some "kids" warn their parents of the dangers. Working with L.A.W. Publications, he distributed literature to promote dating safety and to combat bullying, stalking, gangs, drug abuse, and more. For an even younger audience, Whitfield has coloring books about bicycle and skateboard safety, being wary of strangers, and even "Olly Gator Makes Good Choices." Next year, he would like to take crime prevention education to wider audiences in McDuffie County.
For the moment, his attention is on Red Ribbon Week, Oct. 22-30. He offers this information in a flier: "Red Ribbon Week serves as a vehicle for communities and individuals to take a stand for the hopes and dreams of our children through a commitment to drug prevention and education and a personal commitment to live drug-free lives with the ultimate goal being the creation of a drug-free America." "Red Ribbon Week is the oldest and largest drug prevention campaign in the country.
Although the start and end dates can vary slightly depending on the organization and source, Red Ribbon Week generally takes place the last full week in October."
Red Ribbon Week commemorates federal Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, who died at the hands of drug traffickers in Mexico while fighting illegal drugs out of the United States. Camarena, 37, was investigating a drug cartel that was believed to involve Mexican officials. He was kidnapped Feb. 7, 1985.
His body was found a month later. Evidence showed he had been tortured. Within weeks of his death, Camarena Clubs was launched in Imperial Valley, Calif., Camarena's home. Hundreds of club members pledged to lead drug-free lives to honor Camarena and others.
These coalitions began to wear red badges of satin, in Camarena's memory, giving rise to the Red Ribbon Week. Today, the observation is national. By wearing a red ribbon, Americans show their opposition to drugs. "That's what it's about, awareness," Whitfield said.