Pubdate: Mon, 22 Jan 2007
Source: Florida Today (Melbourne, FL)
Copyright: 2007 Florida Today
Author: Linda Jump,  Florida Today
Note: Does not accept out of town LTEs on drug policy


District Has Concerns About Palm Bay Plan

PALM BAY - If city officials have their way, school resource officers 
at three Palm Bay schools will have drug-sniffing dogs as full-time assistants.

But such an arrangement is far from a done deal. The district 
superintendent's office has asked questions about the necessity of 
such a program and raised concerns about expanded duties for officers 
and liability issues.

City Manager Lee Feldman hopes to make a direct pitch to the school 
board about the need for the dogs, which would be trained to sniff 
out illicit drugs, gunpowder and possibly other substances. The city 
would provide the non-aggressive dogs at Palm Bay and Bayside high 
schools and Southwest Middle School, and hopes to also put a dog in 
its first municipal charter school, Patriot Campus, possibly as soon 
as next year.

No date has been set for any meeting between city staff and the school board.

Area Superintendent Tom McIntyre, one of three school officials who 
met with Palm Bay officials in November to see the dogs in action, 
said a majority of behavioral referrals stem from tardiness or 
disrespect, and at Bayside, for example, more than half of the 
reported drug incidents involved prescription medications that 
wouldn't be picked up by dogs normally not trained to detect them.

"Don't get me wrong. One (drug incident) is too many," McIntyre said. 
"But for one-half of one percent of the referrals, do we need a 
full-time measure?"

Furthermore, he said nearly all the weapons brought to school are 
knives that dogs couldn't detect. His biggest concern is more 
responsibility for already-overworked resource officers.

Feldman said school resource officers have told him "there is a small 
but significant minority of students who use and bring drugs on 
campus" and wondered how many more cases would be discovered if dogs 
were involved. He said the city is ready to pay about $1,200 a year 
to fund the program on a trial basis.

"We need to worry about making kids safe. The issues and the need is 
now," he said.

School Superintendent Richard DiPatri, in a Dec. 4 memo to Feldman, 
wrote, "Placing a full-time drug dog on campus gives a public 
perception that drug use is out of control, and that is simply not 
the case." He said dogs would change the role of school resource 
officers. "Animals, even work dogs, require care, grooming and attention."

And he questioned whether the dogs would bite if aggravated and how 
staff or students with canine allergies would fare.


The district's policy for police dogs in schools is to use local and 
county police-trained dogs to sniff for bombs or narcotics with 
probable cause when students are not the buildings. So far this year, 
the three public schools that would host the canines have seen 
several dozen drug and weapons incidents among the thousand of 
behavioral referrals.

At Bayside High School since August, 20 of 3,487 referrals were 
related to drugs, McIntyre said.

In the 2005-06 school year at Southwest, school resource officer 
Heather Humes-Greene said she had four cases involving weapons and 4 
involving drugs. So far this school year, she has had two instances 
of marijuana possession.

But Humes-Greene favors bringing dogs in for more than drug 
deterrence. "They would help us bond with the kids. Some kids don't 
want to talk to me but you can build a relationship with the dog," she said.

Palm Bay High Principal John Thomas said he'd need a lot more 
information before deciding about sniffer dogs in his school.

"We haven't had any guns on campus since I've been here going back to 
1998. Ninety-nine percent of students are excellent kids. I wouldn't 
want them to be worried about having dogs in the halls," he said.

Shalini Mirpuri, a freshman at Bayside High, likes the idea of dogs 
that sniff for gunpowder and drugs, but questioned their use for less 
serious contraband. "For the betterment of the school to be safe, 
it's a good idea. But those who use tobacco or alcohol only hurt themselves."

Steve Szilegyi of Grant, whose daughter Deanna is in eighth grade at 
Southwest Middle School, would welcome the dogs.

"It's an excellent idea. The schools can't handle it alone and it 
would give the resource officers more tools."

He's has no concerns about the dogs getting aggressive. "We have a 
dog. Most kids have a dog at home. The dogs probably behave better 
than the kids."


Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the mass shootings at 
schools in Littleton, Colo., and West Paducah, Ky., among other 
places, the use of trained dogs in schools has risen.

Interquest Detection Canines of Houston offers school detection and 
deterrence programs using drug-sniffing dogs to 1,500 public and 
private schools in 22 states. The company does random sweeps in 
schools at $200 per visit, sniffing for everything from alcohol and 
tobacco to prescription and illegal drugs and gunpowder. Dogs check 
lockers, gym areas, vehicles, vacated classrooms, parking lots and 
school perimeters.

Vice president Mike Ferdinand said they've never had one of their 
dogs bite a student.

"People don't know how effective these dogs are. The first time you 
find something, the word spreads like wildfire. It gives you a 
barometer of what's on campus."

He said once a school decides to bring dogs in, it's essential that 
administration, staff and parents understand how they will be used.

Ferdinand claims his dogs found 200 guns last year on campuses 
nationwide, ranging from a loaded revolver hidden in a backpack to 
rifles on racks in parked trucks.


While some law enforcement and school officials call the dogs a great 
tool, Kevin Aplin of the Brevard County chapter of the American Civil 
Liberties Union warns they can be misused.

"Students do have constitutional rights," he said. "It's important 
that in their zeal for safe schools, those rights are not overstepped."

Aplin said there must be cause for a search, and dogs should not be 
allowed to sniff students or their possessions randomly.

"There are some constitutional as well as safety issues," he said.

Aplin said school dogs could engender student distrust, and he and 
other critics say dogs create intimidation and fear.

The ACLU filed a federal suit against school and police officials in 
South Dakota for a botched search with a drug-sniffing dog. Seventeen 
American Indian plaintiffs claimed a dog escaped its handler in a 
kindergarten class, chased screaming children and traumatized 
children in other classes who were scared of dogs.


Despite stories of dogs run amok, schools that use them tout their success.

"It's having the intended effect. Parents want to do whatever it 
takes to stop drug and alcohol use," said Dana Shelburne, principal 
at La Jolla High School in southern California, where Interquest has 
offered its services for two years. "When we first suggested it, the 
PTA was polarized, but over the course of time, the majority is in favor."

If a search shows contraband, Shelburne asks the student if he or she 
has contraband. "Then we call parents and tell then we found X,Y,Z. 
If they're under the influence, we call school police."

Shelburne said student assemblies demonstrate the dog's 
effectiveness. "Dogs find beer on backpacks laid down at a party 
three days ago, or if they used marijuana the night before, the 
residue is on their chair."

She said students have agreed to go into rehabilitation centers, 
citing the dogs' presence as their motivation.

But it's not always about major finds. No weapons have been found at 
the school, and so far this school year, only nicotine has been detected.

"The word is out," Shelburne said. "I can't control what they do a 
half block away or at home, but we know the school is safe."

She said many students praise the dog program. "They don't want the 
peer pressure. The dogs give students a perfect excuse not to use."

The Bay School District in Tampa is on its fourth sniffer dog. Judy 
Vandergrift, assistant superintendent, said dogs do random checks of 
lockers or parking lots. "You ought to stand by the restrooms when 
they hear the dogs are on campus. There's lots of flushes. You know 
they're getting rid of stuff."

Sniffer dogs have been used in British schools for decades, and are 
popular in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden.


Illicit narcotics including cannibis, cocaine, and heroin.

Gunpowder from guns and bullets or from fireworks.


Nicotine from cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars.

Prescription drugs


The U.S. Supreme Court hasn't ruled specifically on the use of 
sniffer dogs in schools, but in one case found "there must be 
reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up 
evidence that the student has violated . . . either the law or the 
rules of the school."

A South Carolina federal district court in 2006 awarded $1.6 million 
to 140 students from the Berkeley County School District who were 
ordered to their school floor by police officers while dogs sniffed 
them for illegal drugs. No drugs were found.

According to "Legal Guidelines for Student Searches at Public 
Schools" from the Florida Attorney General's office, there is no 
legal justification required for a canine sniff search.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Education said schools 
would need to follow the attorney general's guidelines for using 
sniffer dogs in schools. But because districts aren't required to 
report whether they use dogs, she couldn't say how many Florida 
schools have them in place.

State case law says a search in a school, initiated by a school 
official, is subject to the less-stringent "reasonable suspicion" 
standard. A trained scent-sniffing dog may be walked around school 
lockers and grounds or vehicles without violating a student's 
constitutional rights. But a student can't be detained during the search.

Case law also shows that an alert by a sniffer dog gives both school 
officials and law enforcement officers probable cause to conduct a 
search without first obtaining a search warrant.


Dogs are used in Brevard County schools as part of the process to 
sniff for bombs or narcotics only when students are not present.

The district cooperates with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office and 
local law enforcement agencies in these instances. Beyond law 
enforcement, seeing-eye dogs are allowed in schools, and a group 
called Care to Read assists at-risk students in reading by using therapy dogs.
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