In 1991, the G.R.E.A.T. Program was developed through a combined effort of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Phoenix Police Department (PPD). The Program began as an eight-lesson middle school curriculum. In early 1992, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) joined ATF and the PPD to expand the Program nationwide. FLETC provided the support necessary to train G.R.E.A.T. instructors, and that same year the first G.R.E.A.T. Officer Training was held. In 1998, the Program added four additional law enforcement agencies to assist in administering the Program: La Crosse, Wisconsin, Police Department; Orange County, Florida, Sheriff's Office; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Police Department; and Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau.
In 1995, a five-year longitudinal evaluation was initiated, which showed the following positive results for students who had completed the training: lower levels of victimization, more negative views about gangs, more favorable attitudes about police, reduction in risk-seeking behaviors, and increased association with peers involved in prosocial activities. However, the study did not clearly demonstrate that the Program was meeting its goals for reductions in gang joining. Therefore, program leadership decided to take a hard look at what was needed to improve the effectiveness of the Program.
During 1999–2000, the Program underwent an extensive multidisciplinary review. The objective was to ensure program adherence to the latest scientifically supported data regarding prevention and educational research and theory. This review enhanced the original program to 13 lessons, placed more emphasis on active learning, and increased teacher involvement. The new curriculum was successfully piloted in 14 cities nationwide in 2001 and implemented nationally beginning in 2003. Currently, the G.R.E.A.T. Program consists of a 13-week middle school curriculum, an elementary curriculum, a summer program, and families training.
In 2004, Congress directed that overall program administration be transferred to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, which assigned operational control to the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). In October 2004, a grant was awarded by BJA to the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR) to provide national training coordination services and related tasks.
In 2009, G.R.E.A.T.'s regional structure was reorganized from five regions to four, with administration of the realigned Southeast Region transferring to the Metropolitan Nashville, Tennessee, Police Department. The Southwest and West regions picked up additional states, and the new Midwest Atlantic Region, under the administration of the La Crosse Police Department, was created from the former Midwest and Northeast Regions. That same year, through the leadership and support of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State, the G.R.E.A.T. Program was introduced into the countries of Central America, which share a serious gang problem with the United States.
In 2011, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention became an active partner in the G.R.E.A.T. national effort, providing a portion of the funds needed to support the training of G.R.E.A.T. instructors.
Since its inception in 1991, over 12,000 law enforcement officers have been certified as G.R.E.A.T. instructors and more than 6 million students have graduated from the G.R.E.A.T. Program. Officers have been trained and students taught in all 50 states, 3 U.S. territories, and several other countries, including Belize, Bermuda, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and the United Kingdom.
To determine the effectiveness of the extensive changes to the Program instituted in 2003, the National Institute of Justice commissioned a longitudinal study of G.R.E.A.T., which was awarded to the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). The national evaluation formally began in the fall semester of 2006 and concluded in the spring of 2012. This study will provide a more accurate and current picture of the impact of the improved curriculum. Although final analysis and peer review are still under way, reports and articles generated by the evaluation can be found on the UMSL Web site at: