How to Conduct K9-Assisted Narcotics Sweeps of K-12 Schools

Communicating with students and parents as well as understanding the laws and court decisions that apply to these kinds of searches can curb drug use on your campus.

School resource officers (SROs) and school administrators across the nation are all too familiar with the problems associated with narcotics on school grounds. Chemical abuse presents a host of challenges for schools ranging from disruptive behavior to drug related acts of violence.

While it is not difficult to identify the troubling signs of a drug user, finding out who is supplying narcotics and where students are storing them is often less obvious. Social media and text messaging have also facilitated communication methods for those in the drug trade. Technology provides both users and sellers a forum to operate covertly.

Random canine sweeps offer SROs and school administrators a proactive approach to successfully locate and remove drugs from campus. Such sweeps also offer the opportunity to gather narcotics related intelligence while serving as a deterrent for students who may otherwise attempt to bring drugs into school.

A successful canine sweep happens when there is detailed planning and a collaborative approach between school administrators and law enforcement agencies. When done efficiently, canine assisted narcotic sweeps help ensure the safety of students and staff with minimal disruption to the learning environment. Principal of Armstrong High School in Plymouth, Minn., David Dahl supports this initiative and states, “Working with law enforcement to conduct canine sweeps is a proactive tool we use to help keep drugs out of our school, which in turn supports a positive school climate.”

While schools at all levels share a common goal of maintaining a drug free environment, there is still reluctance to use canines in schools. Many schools do not conduct canine sweeps because of public perception or legal uncertainty. Fortunately, both of these issues can be easily overcome as you strive to build a safe school climate that is conducive to learning.

Canine Assisted Searches Aren’t Bad for School PR
Some individuals believe that only “tough” schools need a police presence. This perception holds true even today, despite the fact that law enforcement has been working in schools across the country for decades. Today, SROs play an integral role in schools as their duties have expanded to include education, information collection and sharing, emergency management and serving as a direct line of communication between law enforcement agencies and school administrators.

Recent acts of violence on U.S. campuses have also generated support for police partnership. However, the support is not in response to a particular school being viewed as tough but rather a proactive approach in the event of an unforeseen act of violence.

The use of canine assisted narcotics sweeps does not indicate that a particular school has an abnormal amount of drugs on campus. Instead, it indicates the willingness of school officials to remain proactive in their efforts to ensure the safety and security of the school.

Supporting this effort are the expectations held by parents and community members. It is imperative that parents know their sons and daughters are attending a safe and drug free school.

“School districts have an obligation to use proactive methods to prevent narcotics on school grounds rather than only responding to a drug related problem when information presents itself,” says Dahl.

Sergeant Robert Topp, a 12-year veteran with the Plymouth (Minn.) Police Department, and highly recognized canine handler, is an expert in conducting school sweeps with his canine partner Saber. He explains that, “From my experience, school officials are pleased to see the results of a canine sweep because it helps identify the extent of the drug problem on campus. Canine sweeps typically reveal a minimal presence of narcotics on campus. And with repeated use of canine sweeps, the number of positive indications for narcotics often decreases.”

Explain the Program’s Importance to Parents, Students
It is important to point out that open communication with students and parents about the use of canine sweeps in school is highly encouraged. Open communication also fosters a positive perception toward the use of canines in schools.

Consider preparing a written notification to parents at the beginning of the school year, which offers information regarding the use and purpose of canine sweeps in school. If students are required to buy a parking permit, it is important to stipulate in the parking contract that vehicles parked on school grounds may be subject to narcotics detecting canines. It should also be noted that a violation of the drug policy can result in both legal and school consequences.

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