Pubdate: Wed, 02 Jan 2008
Source: Florida Today (Melbourne, FL)
Copyright: 2008 Florida Today
Author: Linda Jump
Bookmark: (Drug Dogs)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


City Considers Using Canines On Regular Basis

PALM BAY - City officials hope Harley, an energetic police dog 
spending time at Palm Bay's municipal charter school, will show 
Brevard Public Schools that such dogs can -- and should -- be in the 
city's public middle and high schools.

During months of weekly visits to the school, including some sniff 
investigations of lockers in the middle school area of the Patriot 
campus, the black Lab discovered no drugs and contributed to no 
arrests. Nor did it bite anyone.

City Manager Lee Feldman hopes the district will see Harley as a 
positive addition and change its position of granting the dogs access 
only on a limited basis.

A year ago, Feldman asked the district to let drug-sniffing, 
nonaggressive dogs accompany school resource officers at Southwest 
Middle and Palm Bay and Bayside high schools. Those are public 
schools run by the district, unlike Palm Bay Charter School's Patriot 
campus, a municipal charter run by the city through a contract with 
the district.

Citing concerns about expanded duties for officers, allergic or 
dog-fearing students, and liability issues, district officials balked 
at the city's request.

"We evaluated the number of drug possession incidents, the forced 
interaction of students and dogs any time the school resource officer 
was involved in student contacts, and the safety of students if a 
bite did occur," Andrea Alford, director of district and school 
security, said recently.

Alford said dogs by their nature "are capable of unpredictable 
reactions that may result in their natural instinct to be aggressive, 
regardless of their breed or temperament."

The district's current dog policy is to use dogs 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.

"By using these nonthreatening dogs, we can provide a strong 
deterrent and constant message to students who wish to bring 
narcotics onto campus. In addition, these dogs can be trained to 
sniff out weapons," Feldman wrote in a lengthy entry to his blog on 
the city's Web site titled "Why Bob Can't Go to School." Bob is a police dog.

He said a 2007 National Citizen Survey of Palm Bay residents showed 
that 92 percent of respondents support dogs in school.

Later, Alford, writing in a guest column in FLORIDA TODAY that 
followed one by Palm Bay Police Chief Bill Berger supporting the 
dogs, said, "As a compromise, the district did encourage Palm Bay 
police to use the dogs as a prototype . . . in its schools and on all 
our school sites at any time students are not present to search 
lockers and classrooms."

Locker sniffer

Two-year-old Harley and his trainer, Palm Bay Police Officer Kevin 
Morris, visit Patriot a few hours a week.

Morris said Harley, who weighs about 90 pounds, rarely interacts 
directly with the older students as he walks the halls, but he does 
with the younger ones.

During one visit, Morris touched a few lockers, nodded at the dog and 
said "Show me." A rambunctious but leashed Harley stood on back legs 
to smell the top lockers, then nosed the lower ones. He didn't sit to 
indicate the presence of drugs. When he finished, Morris rewarded 
Harley with a well-chewed purple toy.

"Good boy," Morris said, patting the dog's head.

ACLU, parents react

While city officials like the idea of using trained dogs to smell 
lockers for contraband, officials from the American Civil Liberties 
Union of Florida have concerns.

Kevin Aplin, vice president of the Brevard chapter of the ACLU, said 
the dog's presence could make it easier to violate student rights and 
to contradict constitutional protections against unreasonable 
searches and seizures.

"My first concern is any search of a person or locker would violate 
the rules of the Fourth Amendment unless there is a suspicion that a 
prohibited or illegal substance is in the locker," he said. He said 
even students in public schools have a right to privacy.

Randall Marshall, legal director of the state ACLU, questioned the 
necessity of dogs in schools. They "seem to be another step in a 
school trying to reach beyond education. Whatever happened to 
parental responsibility?"

Feldman said there have been no complaints from parents.

Patriot Principal Eric Lewis said the dog's presence appears to ease 
some parent's safety concerns. "It gives peace of mind for our 
community and shows we are trying to be proactive," he said.

Parent Arianna Grieves is fine with dogs. "I don't have any problems 
with it. I can see the good it does," she said, adding that 
drug-sniffing dogs were used in the high school she attended in New Mexico.

Kari Pope has children in kindergarten and seventh grade at Patriot. 
"It does make me feel a bit safer. It's a shame that it comes to 
that, but in this day and age, there's going to be drugs," she said.
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