Pubdate: Sun, 30 Jun 2002
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2002
Author: David Bamber, Home Affairs Correspondent


The police are to take sniffer dogs into schools to nose out children who 
are carrying concealed drugs following a successful pilot scheme that 
caught several pupils.

Over the past month, 3,080 pupils in 10 Kent secondary schools have taken 
part in the drugs searches by "passive" police dogs which have been trained 
to indicate users of drugs - particularly cannabis.

The dogs identified 62 youngsters who had come into contact with cannabis; 
11 admitted they had used the drug and have now been referred to drugs 
agencies for help. Other forces throughout the country are to put dogs into 
schools, as part of an initiative that has won the support of MPs.

Pupils are given no warning of the drugs searches, but are instead told 
that the police are coming to the school to demonstrate a mock drugs raid 
on a night club. When the officers arrive, they line the children up and 
walk along in front of them with a dog trained to sniff illegal substances. 
If the dog shows interest, the children are questioned and referred for help.

Officers in the force are delighted with the experiment so far. Sgt Howard 
Chandler, of the Drugs Liaison Unit, said: "This is a powerful message to 
make young people sit up and listen. We want to stigmatise drug-taking in 
the same way as drinking and driving.

"The schools are fully behind us and word soon gets around that there is no 
point bringing drugs into schools."

One of the schools visited by the police operation, codenamed Efflux, was 
Oakwood Park Grammar School in Kent. Pupils aged 13 to 16 were searched 
during a session organised by the school's head after the teachers became 
concerned that pupils were "spaced out" during lessons.

Twenty four were found to have "positive indications" for cannabis and one 
15-year-old had the drug in his pocket. More was discovered in a bin. Supt 
Mick Matthews, the Kent Police area commander for Maidstone and Malling, 
said: "We were approached by the head teacher of the school who said their 
staff were getting suspicious that the kids were using drugs.

"They were looking spaced out during lessons. The fear was that there were 
drugs on the premises and being dealt, although we haven't substantiated that.

"If we accept the fact that cannabis is in the school, then hopefully this 
action will try and stop it getting out of control. What is clear is there 
are students at the school who are using cannabis, which is a worry."

Mike Newbould, the headteacher, said: "Staff and parents are becoming 
increasingly concerned about the drug culture. We invited the police into 
Oakwood because we are determined to do our utmost to help those involved 
in the drug and to protect the other students.

"The boy who was found with cannabis has been signed up to a support 
programme and the school has spoken with his family."

The Association of Chief Police Officers is fully behind the scheme and its 
drugs committee is to consider introducing national guidelines. Some 
officers have even floated the idea of schools buying retired police dogs 
to be permanently on the premises.

A member of the Government said: "We are fully behind this scheme if it 
works. This isn't about arresting kids in schools - it is about getting 
them help and preventing drug abuse."

Tom Watson, the Labour MP and a member of the Commons home affairs select 
committee which recently recommended downgrading possession of cannabis to 
a non-arrestable offence, said: "Anything which could help children and 
identify those at risk is to be welcomed."

Sniffer dogs have been used in individual schools before on an occasional 
basis - where invited in by a headteacher who is concerned about 
drug-taking, for example - but this is the first time it has been done on a 
systematic basis.

Last month, Devon and Cornwall Police used a sniffer dog at a school in 
Devon at the request of the headteacher and in that case a 15-year-old boy 
was charged with possession of cannabis.

In the Avon and Somerset force area, a boy was caught when a police dog 
visited a school for other reasons and became agitated when near the pupil.

In Stockport, in 1999, a headteacher paid for the dogs to come in and go 
through cloakrooms specifically to identify drug dealers among his pupils.
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