Cape DARE car wins first-place trophy

Monday, August 23, 2004

Cape Girardeau patrolman Jeff Bonham knew his patrol car was an attention-getter and an icebreaker. Now he knows it's a winner.

Earlier this month, Bonham, a DARE officer in the city's public and parochial schools, entered his new DARE car in a competition among other Missouri DARE cars at Springfield, Mo. His Camaro won the first-place trophy in the category of sports car for everyday use, beating out a Firebird, a PT Cruiser and a Monte Carlo. A total of 30 DARE cars were entered in different classes.

Now that he knows his car is a winner, Bonham said he plans to enter it again next year.

The competition was held at a convention of the Missouri DARE Officers Association. Three judges handed out awards based on overall cleanliness, design of the logos and the cars' equipment.

"The judges seemed to be really interested in the PlayStation," Bonham said.

He has a Sony PlayStation in the trunk of the car along with a revved-up stereo system. Donations from local businesses, along with fund raisers selling dozens and dozens of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, paid for the car, its accessories and the decals on it. The car is outfitted with radio, lights and siren and serves as Bonham's patrol car when he's not teaching DARE classes.

"The judges also liked the fact that I can take those T-tops off and the lights are still mounted," Bonham said. "A lot of people noticed it. That's what I wanted."

A car that commands attention is a way for Bonham to break the ice with young people so he can spread the DARE message of resisting drugs, alcohol and other destructive behavior and developing their self-confidence. It puts police and young people on common ground.

"The kids at school love it," Bonham said. "It's 'Oh man. What a cool car.' It's easier to talk to them this way."

Bonham will spend this semester teaching eight classes at the middle school and one at St. Vincent de Paul School. The children will be allowed to look at the car, sit in it, play games on the PlayStation and listen to DARE messages and music on the stereo system. He said that youngsters who were in elementary school last year and don't know him, and might be a little apprehensive about approaching a police officer, have readily come up to him and asked about the car.

The car has attracted attention from young and old alike. Bonham said one evening he cruised through Capaha Park where a group of young people about 18 to 25 years old -- beyond the DARE class age -- were congregating. Normally they wouldn't pay much attention to a patrol car, but this one is different.

"This time it was, 'What kind of engine have you got? What kind of stereo?'" Bonham said. "For that age group, it's what they like."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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