Prince George's County police Cpl. Willie Wade was teaching a class of fifth- and sixth-graders at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School about drug abuse. The topic of the moment was the hallucinogen PCP.

"Do you know what PCP does?" Wade asked.

"It makes you real strong," one boy said.

"It makes you jump over buildings," another replied.

So far, the deadly drug sounded like pretty good stuff. And then, from the back of the room, came another voice.

"PCP makes you do like that woman did in P.G. County," a boy said. "It makes you stab yourself and stab yourself and stab yourself."

The child was talking about Sharon Denise Araoye, a 26-year-old Riverdale Hills resident who, raving about Satan and Jehovah on a July morning in 1987, stabbed herself repeatedly in the eye, chest, abdomen and groin.

High on a marijuana cigarette soaked with liquid PCP, Araoye continued to plunge the knife into her body, even after a police officer, trying to stop her rampage, shot her in the leg. She died five hours later.

The child's answer was the one that Wade had been looking for: PCP will kill you. Drugs will kill you.

Wade, a member of the county's Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or DARE, comes to Stoddert in Temple Hills two days each week to deliver that message.

His teaching style is part experience, part standard curriculum.

A police officer with 20 years on the street in the District and Prince George's County and father of two girls, Wade seems to know instinctively how to reach the youngsters. They pay attention. They laugh at his jokes, and when he gets serious, so do they.

Wade is one of 12 Prince George's police officers assigned full time to 92 elementary and middle schools as part of DARE. The county has expanded the program this year to reach 10,000 public school students, up from 7,000 students last year. The county also is piloting a DARE program in an Oxon Hill parochial school.

DARE, created by the Los Angeles police department and endorsed by agencies across the country, puts officers in classrooms all over Maryland, where they teach students about drug abuse and the ways to avoid it.

The officers, uniformed and armed, spend the day at the school, acting as cafeteria monitors, counselors and, in the best cases, big brothers and sisters.

It is in this way, police and school officials say, that the officers can best deliver the second part of what is meant to be a two-pronged message: The police officer is your friend.

"The officer can be a positive role model, a cool guy, someone they can go to with a problem -- not just someone who is going to come in and arrest them or their friends," said Stoddert Principal Kevin Sawyer.

In Prince George's County, where relations between the police and segments of the black community have been strained for two decades, Police Chief David B. Mitchell touts DARE as one of the agency's bests opportunities to change stereotypes about the force.

"I see this as a way to present ourselves, to show that the members of the police department are not only here to protect and to serve but to be friends and give guidance," Mitchell said.

"The students and the officers develop personal relationships, and I think this will certainly help to break down the old image."

In a time of austere budget projections, the county has continued expanding DARE, increasing the number of officers assigned to the unit from eight to 13, including a sergeant.

Rank-and-file troops on the street occasionally grouse that they are under-manned, while specialty units, such as DARE, continue to grow.

However, police officials, likening DARE to an ounce of prevention, vow that the program will be one of the last to be trimmed.

"The dividends of DARE are far too great and the topic, drug abuse, is far too important to consider cutting the program," Mitchell said.

"Also, if you look at the alternatives to education -- increased drug abuse and violence and incarceration -- they are disastrous."

Many students at Stoddert, a neighborhood school that draws most of its students from the inside-the-Beltway communities surrounding Iverson Mall, are familiar with drug abuse -- in the streets and sometimes their own homes.

The situation can be ticklish for a police officer who is faced with contradicting the values espoused by a parent.

For example, on a recent day, as Wade spoke about the response-numbing effects of alcohol, a sixth-grader told the officer that her father often drinks a beer when he is behind the wheel of the family sedan.

"Most people can take drinking and driving," the girl said. "My father can. He knows when the light is green."

Wade gently explained that alcohol is a sneaky drug and that it can sometimes trick people into thinking their reflexes are quick when, in fact, they are not.

The girl looked dubious. And then, from the back of the room, Wade got help from an unexpected source.

James Meyers, 13, waggled his hand in the air. His uncle, James said, put a piece of liver in a glass filled with liquor. The liquor, the youth said, "ate the meat all up."

"I don't mess with the stuff," James said later, outside the class. "Alcohol or drugs either."

Wade overheard and smiled broadly.