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10 Steps to a Successful K9-Assisted Drug Sweep

Organizing a successful canine sweep requires careful planning, and the process should start weeks before the date you have chosen to conduct the search.

Organizing a successful canine sweep requires careful planning, and the process should start weeks before the date you have chosen. While every canine sweep will be unique to the school in terms of the process, the following strategies have proven successful for Armstrong High School and the Plymouth (Minn.) Police Department:

1. Start by developing a team of organizers, often referred to as a crisis team. Your crisis team should consist of school administrators, SROs, school social workers, guidance counselors and other educational professionals who would be appropriate for your school.

Information sharing beyond the scope of the crisis team can be detrimental to the success of the narcotics sweep. School administrators and SROs must emphasize to the crisis team that all details must remain in confidence. Sharing information about the sweep to other staff members or students may jeopardize its effectiveness.

Related Article: How to Conduct Canine Assisted Narcotics Sweeps of K-12 Schools

2. Select a date and time in which movement in the building is predictable. This will help to reduce educational interruption to instruction and testing. It will also ensure that groups of students are not interfering with the sweep.

3. Focus on which staff will participate in the sweep, what each person’s role will be and what their duties will look like. It is essential that school administration and law enforcement work hand-in-hand during this stage of the planning.

School administrators who know staff best should be responsible for assigning duties to campus employees. The duties should be assigned in a way that will afford staff the best opportunity to contribute to the process.

4. Equally important is law enforcement’s ability to communicate exactly what they will need from the school to run a successful sweep. For example, it is important to keep students away from the area being searched and to set up a location to interview students.

This type of collaboration will lead to an efficient search that is least intrusive to the building.

5. School resource officers should communicate with canine officers leading up to the day of the sweep and attempt to solicit assistance from neighboring jurisdictions if necessary. Most sweeps can be conducted in less than an hour with three to five canine handlers. On the day of the sweep it is important for canine handlers to stage offsite so students do not see a gathering of police officers near the school parking lot or coming into the school, in turn announcing a narcotics sweep will be underway.

6. Fifteen minutes prior to the start of the sweep it is recommended that the school be placed in a modified lockdown, meaning all movement in the building is restricted. Teachers continue with instruction, however, students are not allowed to leave a classroom until further notice from school administrators. It is recommended that both students and staff practice lockdown procedures to become familiar with their expectations.

7. Once the canine handlers arrive, they are each assigned two crisis team members who will assist them during the sweep. This canine team will consist of one school administrator and a police officer.  Each canine team is assigned a section of the building or parking lot to be searched.

8. As the handlers and canines begin their work, the halls should be empty of everyone but the canine teams. If a canine indicates positively on a locker, it should initiate the team into action. Once the canine handler has identified a positive “hit”, the school administrator will communicate via radio to the main office to determine who the locker belongs to and where the student is located. The canine will continue to work while the rest of the team starts the investigation. This process can be replicated when sweeping vehicles in the school parking lot as well.

9. The school administrator will document the time, the locker number and the student who is assigned to the locker. During this time, the other two members of the team begin their tasks. One team member assists the administrator in searching the locker. If any contraband is found, it is placed in an evidence container and numbered to match the administrator’s documentation.

10. During this time, assisting team members are simultaneously locating students. Students will be walked to an area that has been assigned as a processing room and turned over to school administrators and SROs for person and property searches. Recovered narcotics will be handed over to law enforcement, field tested and inventoried as evidence. Students are interviewed and often given a school and legal consequence.

Jeff Dorfsman is an eight-year veteran with the Plymouth (Minn.) Police Department and can be contacted at jdorfsman@plymouthmn.gov. Chris Meisch is an assistant principal at Armstrong High School in Robbinsdale School District and can be contacted at Chris_Meisch@rdale.org.

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