Pubdate: Fri, 14 May 2004
Source: Flamborough Post (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004, Flamborough Post
Author: Richard Leitner
Bookmark: (Youth)
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


Under the glare of TV lights, Snickers ran right by the locker containing a 
small packet of marijuana, but quickly honed in on the intended target 
after a corrective yank on her leash.

Her reward: an unscented, rolled-up white towel, a toy for a game of 
tug-of-war with her partner, Const. Doug Hall.

The five-year-old Labrador retriever put her trained nose to the test at a 
recent launch of a new Hamilton Police Services agreement that allows local 
Catholic and public secondary school principals to call on her services to 
check school lockers for drugs.

Under the terms of the agreement, those checks are to be random and not 
target individuals or classrooms. The principal will conduct the actual 
search of lockers identified by Snickers and hand over any drugs to police, 
who will decide whether to lay charges.

The four-legged snoop can detect marijuana and its derivatives, crack, 
cocaine and heroin.

"I'm sure she won't understand, but Snickers, God bless you," police 
services board chair Bernie Morelli said after the demonstration, praising 
police and school board officials for reaching an agreement that helps 
"maintain some order" in society.

"This is again an excellent example of combining the resources to respond 
to a need and to do so within a legal framework," he said. "This is not 
done as an investigative tool, but certainly as a random approach to 
maintaining discipline in our schools."

Chief Brian Mullan hailed the deal as "an ounce of prevention" that will 
build on the 10 police sweeps this year that caught some 100 high school 
students with illicit drugs.

He said police don't have statistics to verify that drugs are a problem at 
high schools, but there is a perception among student advisors, 
administrators and parents that they are.

"When there's a perceptional problem, it's our job as a community, our job 
as a group of stakeholders together, to come together and put together a 
solution," he said.

"We'll tell the students that we're bringing this individual, Snickers. 
We'll bring her into the schools and we'll be looking for narcotics in your 
lockers and we'll take steps hopefully to make the schools a better place, 
a nurturing place, somewhere where kids can learn day in and day out 
without the effects of drug use."

Education Minister Gerard Kennedy said the province doesn't have any 
policies on the use of drug dogs, but may address the issue as part of a 
safe-schools initiative.

In the meantime, he said he won't second-guess the Hamilton agreement from 
Queen's Park.

"We may have an outlook in terms of when it is that a school should resort 
to those kinds of things," Kennedy said. "Our main thing is to make sure 
that schools are safe and there are some theories about that you have to be 
careful whether you treat places as unsafe and you get the reaction you're 
looking for. I don't know if drug dogs are part of that equation."

Reaction among those targeted by the initiative is mixed, according to Vass 
Bednar, student trustee for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

She personally welcomes the move as a "wake-up call" that drugs have no 
place in schools, but doubts Snickers will find much because most students 
won't put drugs in their lockers knowing they might be searched.

Still, the Ancaster High student said many of her classmates are upset, 
viewing police dogs as heavy-handed and even ironic, given the experience 
of those who grew up in the '60s and '70s.

"We discussed that in school, that 'Oh, it used to be OK, they used to look 
at it a differently.' People are having conversations (saying) 'How do I 
know that the cop bringing in the dog didn't used to do that when he was in 
high school?'" she said.

"Even though it may be hypocritical in a way, the message isn't, don't do 
drugs. The message is, don't do drugs at school, and I think that's a fine 
message for anyone."

Public school board chair Ray Mulholland said he had initial concerns that 
bringing in drug dogs might be going overboard, but he's satisfied they 
will help ensure a positive learning environment.

"We've got to make sure it's not in the schools," he said. "There's so many 
things that these kids are facing and I think it's important that we, as 
far as schools (go), give as much protection as possible for those who 
don't want to get involved (in drugs)."

Catholic board chair Pat Daly called the initiative is "a small step" in 
driving home the message that any amount of drugs in school is 
unacceptable. He didn't rule out expanding searches to classrooms.

"It hasn't been talked about. That doesn't mean it won't be in the future," 
he said. "That's a different issue, but we were careful and the police have 
been cautious, which we appreciate. But together with the police, we think 
we have to do whatever we can to rid our schools of drugs."
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