While most of the United States has moved on to other types of crime prevention programs, in Central America the G.R.E.A.T (Gang Resistance Education and Training) program is just getting better. The GREAT program emerged in 1991 through the combined efforts of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Snuff, Firearms and Explosives (ATF, for its acronym in English) and the Police Department of the city of Phoenix, Arizona.
The program began as an eight-lesson middle school curriculum. In early 1992, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) joined the ATF and the Phoenix Police Department to expand the program nationwide, providing resources for the training of trainers. That same year the first training for officers (GOT) was realized. In 1998, GREAT added four police agencies to assist in program administration: the La Crosse Police Department, Wisconsin; The Orange County Sheriff's Office, Florida; The Philadelphia Police Department, Pennsylvania; And the Portland, Oregon Police Office.
In 1995, a study began which continued for five years the development of students who had completed the program. The study showed the following good results: lower levels of victimization, worse opinion of gangs, better disposition towards the police, reduction in risk behaviors, more association with peers with pro social positions.
Between 1999 and 2000, a comprehensive review of the program and curriculum was carried out with the aim of ensuring that GREAT adheres to the latest scientific knowledge in the areas of prevention and research and educational theory. This update changed the middle school curriculum from eight to thirteen lessons, gave more emphasis to active learning, and increased teacher involvement. The new curriculum was successfully piloted in 14 cities in 2001 and implemented throughout the United States as of 2003. The GREAT Program currently consists of the middle school curriculum, a primary school curriculum, a component Training for families and a summer program.
In 2004, the US Congress decided that program management be transferred to the Department of Justice, Office of Judicial Programs, which assigned operational control to the Office of Judicial Assistance (BJA). In October 2004, BJA granted a grant to the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR®) to coordinate training at the national level and perform other related tasks.
Another development in the history of the program occurred in 2009 with the request from the US Department of State, Office of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) to use GREAT as a primary prevention tool for a Regional Initiative on Gangs in the nations of Central America. Agents of the national police of Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua were trained in San Salvador and began teaching the program in their country's schools in 2010. Later agents from Honduras and Panama joined the program. With the backing of INL, the six countries are expanding their use of GREAT to counter the growing influence of gangs.
The impact this program is having within the communities is one of hope. Hope for an El Salvador where it's residents don't have to constantly be challenged with wanting to move to the United States just to stay alive. A comment made to me personally by an active member of the National Civil Police of El Salvador.