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As a Lebanon Police Officer, Henry Keene has seen the effects drugs and poor decisions can have on individuals and the community.
As the Lebanon DARE Officer, he tries to teach children how to make good decisions.
“It’s teaching kids to make decisions when nobody’s looking,” Keene said. “When they are under peer pressure, are they able to evaluate and respond and make a good decision?”
Keene, 46, said DARE did not exist when he was growing up, and he thinks about that whenever he arrests someone close to his own age.
“Had they had it, would they have made a different choice?” he said.
Keene was born in Washington County, and he attended Washington County High School through his sophomore year in high school. That’s when he moved to East Stroudsburg, Pa., which is where he completed his high school education.
Keene had been considering joining the military. His father and two of his brothers had served in the Army, and he visited with an Army recruiter who explained what benefits he would receive if he enlisted.
Keene was also interested in the Marine Corps, but he found the Marine recruiter wasn’t about to explain what the Corps could offer him.
“Basically they said, ‘We ain’t got to offer you nothing. What do you got to offer the Marine Corps?’ That’s what made me join. I like being challenged,” Keene said.
Keene attended college and played football for the Marines, and he served in the Corps from 1988 to 1992. In his last year in the service, his unit was trained as a police unit to patrol ports in the Philippines and to search for Al Qaeda cells in the region.
He remained on the inactive reserve until 1996.
After he completed his active duty service, Keene said he applied to join the California Highway Patrol, but that was a highly competitive job, in which more than a thousand people might be competing for one open position.
So instead, he went to work for the largest car detailing business in California. In 2000, he opened his own car wash business. He returned to Springfield in February 2010 when his father died.
Initially, he went to work at a factory, and later he was hired in a part-time position at the Marion County Detention Center. After six months, he applied for a position with the Lebanon Police Department.
“I was a little hesitant because of my age,” Keene said. “I was 43 at the time. I didn’t know physically if I could do it because I hadn’t done anything, really, physically since I got out of the Marine Corps.”
Nevertheless, he was hired and went to the police academy, where he was the only African-American in his class. Despite that, he said his age is what made him stand out from his classmates, most of whom were in their 20s.
“They called me grandpa,” Keene said.
After finishing his training at the academy, he then completed 80 hours of training to become a DARE officer in January of 2011. DARE stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education.
He taught his first nine-week DARE program at Glasscock Elementary School in March of 2011. Since then, he’s taught classes at Lebanon Elementary and St. Augustine, and he recently started his second round of classes at Glasscock Elementary.
“You can find yourself getting lost with the fifth graders. They’re just so fun to be around,” Keene said.
He knows some people don’t think that DARE is effective, but he points to data available at monitoringthefuture.org, which shows that teen drug use has declined since the DARE program started in 1983.
He knows no program is going to be 100 percent effective, but Keene believes the decision-making skills taught through DARE can be applied to a variety of situations.
In his own life, Keene said he’s learned something from every job that he’s had. He learned discipline and maturity in the Marines. He improved his communication skills in business, and he appreciated building relationships through his work at the detention center.
Today, in addition to being a police officer, he is also a licensed minister in the AME Zion Church, and that has given him another way to relate to people when he is called to a scene.
And in the classroom, he strives to build relationships and to be a role model for his students, especially for the ones who may not have a father figure in their lives.
“You know you’re doing your job when you’re not in uniform and a child runs up and hugs you,” Keene said.