Pubdate: Wed, 25 May 2005
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2005 Bangor Daily News Inc.


OLD TOWN - Police used drug-detecting dogs Tuesday morning to sniff around
students' vehicles at the Old Town High School parking lot, as school
officials and police ramp up efforts to curb drug use at the school.

"Like a lot of high schools in Maine and across the country, we recognize
there's a problem, and we're trying to be proactive," Old Town High School
Principal Joe Gallant said during the search around about 100 vehicles in
the school parking lot.

School officials have brought in police dogs to sniff out drugs in lockers
four times in recent months, but this was the first time the specially
trained canines were used to check student vehicles.

Eight vehicles on Tuesday registered a positive hit with the dogs. As in
past searches inside the school, police found no drugs after they obtained a
warrant and searched the vehicles.

"I'm not naive enough to think that my kids are not doing it, but I think it
speaks well for us when the multiple times we have done searches that we've
come up empty," Gallant said before police officers determined there were no
drugs in the vehicles.

No matter that authorities didn't find any drugs - the scent of marijuana
and other narcotics can linger for days and could come from anyone who has
been in the vehicle - said Old Town police Officer Seth Burnes, who headed
the search.

Authorities are banking on the cumulative deterrence factor of the searches
and continued police presence. That students know that police can and will
search their lockers or their vehicles is expected to be a strong deterrent
for any student considering bringing drugs onto the school campus, according
to police.

"They don't know from day to day whether a dog is in the school or searching
the parking lot," said Burnes, whose duties at the Police Department include
focusing on reducing alcohol, drug and tobacco use among students.

Motor vehicles parked at the high school were checked beginning about 9:20
a.m. by two state police dogs and their handlers, as were vehicles that
tried to leave or students who showed up later.

Students Brandy Woods and Jessica LeBlanc, both 18-year-olds from Greenbush,
weren't happy when they were told to head to the upper parking lot to have a
dog sniff around the red Ford Mustang that Woods was driving. The girls had
one class Tuesday and were returning to campus to drop off LeBlanc at her
car after a tanning session when they were stopped by police.

"I felt that they invaded my privacy," said LeBlanc who, along with Woods,
was allowed to leave after the brief check by the dog.

Both students said that they weren't so much bothered by the police checks
of lockers, but that their cars are private property and a different matter.

"I can understand the lockers because the lockers are their property, but
our cars aren't their property," LeBlanc said.

The young women's cars were on school and city property and therefore
subject to those jurisdictions and perusal by the police and dogs, as any
vehicle on public property would be, Burnes said later.

Troopers Carman Lilley and Jeff Clark, based in Houlton, answered the call
when Old Town officials sought drug sniffing dogs for Tuesday's search.
Lilley brought veteran canine Major, a 9-year-old German shepherd, while
Clark brought Hanno, a 2-year-old German shepherd.

As each pair walked between the vehicles, the troopers ran an open hand
along the areas of the vehicle they wanted the dogs to focus on: a door
handle where drug residue from fingers may remain or the cracks of a door or
trunk where odors can escape.

Sometimes it took convincing to keep the dog's attention on the vehicle and
away from distractions, such as other people.

"Major, Major, go to work," Lilley said firmly but gently to get his dog
back on track. Lilley and Major search about three schools a year, some of
them more than once, at the requests of school officials.

At times Major wanted his reward, the chance to play with a red rubber ball,
right away, but it's business before pleasure for the pair.

"Sorry, you don't get the ball till you're done, buddy," Lilley told the

The dogs are trained and certified to distinguish the smell of drugs from
other odors that might come from the vehicle, such as the smell of roadkill
on a tire, Lilley said. When they do get a drug hit, there's no mistaking

They sit.

If they are really excited, there are combinations of things they will do:
sitting quickly then standing, whining and barking, excitedly trying to tell
their handlers that something is there, the trooper said.

"A lot of times they'll get so emotional trying to tell you it's there that
they'll bark and whine and pop a sit," he said.

As the school year winds down, Gallant said, the searches are intended to
send an anti-drug message founded on a concern for the students' well-being.

"Just because it's the end of the year, we haven't forgotten them, and we do
care," Gallant said. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Josh