The best law enforcement officer in the nation at helping kids make correct choices about drugs, alcohol and other aspects of their lives works at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
Cpl. Ken Vila is the 2015 D.A.R.E. Officer of the Year.
The national award, given to someone who has shown dedication to D.A.R.E. beyond the high standards evidenced by others involved in the program, will be presented at D.A.R.E. America’s conference in New Orleans in August.
Cpl. Vila is the top choice from among dozens of candidates from around the country, including three from Florida.
“This was an extremely competitive field but in the end Cpl. Vila’s commitment, dedication and can-do attitude led to his selection,” said John Lindsay, D.A.R.E. America Region 2 director. “It was quite a battle and he earned it.”
But the accolades don’t stop there.
Cpl. Vila is also the 2015 Florida D.A.R.E. Officer of the Year. The award is given annually to a Florida law enforcement officer who is committed to drug prevention and enforcement.
Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk presented the award to Cpl. Vila on Monday, July 6, during the Florida Association of School Resource Officers conference in Orlando. Also at the conference, the CCSO Youth Relations Bureau was honored as Agency of the Year for significant contributions it has made to the school resource officer profession.
D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is an education program that gives fifth-graders the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, alcohol, tobacco use, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, bullying, gangs, cyber-bullying, violence and other negative activities.
Cpl. Vila began his law enforcement career with CCSO in 1989 and has spent his entire career as a Youth Relations deputy, including 22 years as a D.A.R.E. instructor.
He is currently one of 47 D.A.R.E. officers in a cadre of 56 CCSO Youth Relations deputies. He is the most experienced and most versed in the D.A.R.E. curriculum.
“No question, Cpl. Vila is certainly the go-to-guy when it comes to D.A.R.E.,” said Sheriff Rambosk, who is a member of the D.A.R.E. America International Law Enforcement Advisory Board.
Cpl. Vila became a certified D.A.R.E. instructor in 1994. He took his training and experience to the next level in 2012 when he became a D.A.R.E. mentor.
“Without exception, Cpl. Vila has molded and influenced at least two generations of Collier County citizens,” Sheriff Rambosk said.
In 2011, he taught one of his most memorable D.A.R.E. classes.
Florida First Lady Ann Scott observed Cpl. Vila’s class at Osceola Elementary School. Mrs. Scott was joined by Sheriff Rambosk, along with school officials, representatives of the state and national D.A.R.E. organizations and members of the media.
Although the special guests in the room were highly regarded, Cpl. Vila stressed throughout his lesson that the most important people in the room that day were his fifth-grade D.A.R.E. students.
In the early morning of April 29, 2012, Cpl. Vila was confronted with the decision that all law enforcement officers realize they may face. While home alone he was awakened by the sound of breaking glass. At that moment, he knew his life and home were threatened. The intruder failed to heed Cpl. Vila’s warnings and orders and continued to pursue him while yielding a weapon. Cpl. Vila resorted to his training as a law enforcement officer as he assessed the situation and was left with no option but to shoot the intruder.
Cpl. Vila admitted working through the event was difficult. But amid the media frenzy that followed he found comfort in words posted online by a former D.A.R.E. student under a newspaper story about the shooting: “Cpl. Vila was my D.A.R.E. Officer. He is not only a good deputy, but is a good, moral man who cares about people.”
At the time, Cpl. Vila did not realize how deeply these words would resonate with him.
“All new D.A.R.E. officers could learn a lesson in humility from these words – how their words and actions will have an impact on their students even without knowing it,” he said.