Police Dog Hired After 6 Bomb Threats at Springfield Public Schools
The handler is a retired Springfield, Ill., police officer with 20 years of experience in training police dogs and their handlers.
Officials at Springfield Public Schools have hired a canine handler to regularly search its middle and high schools after a slew of bomb threats.
The school board voted to hire retired Springfield, Ill., police officer Ron Howard, reports KSDK.
Howard retired in 2016 after 27 years in the police force, 20 of which he trained police dogs and their handlers.
Officials believe the regular searches will deter students from bringing contraband into schools. They also hope it will allow schools to avoid an evacuation if more bomb threats are made.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” said Jon Filbrun, the district’s coordinator of security and safety. “We want kids to know the dog is going to be there searching for these things. Hopefully, that will make kids think twice not to bring it to school.”
Six bomb threats have been made so far this school year in Springfield Public School District 186, including four in one day in October.
Prior to the new hire, two to four random searches of lockers and school grounds were done per year at the middle and high schools, using dogs from the Springfield Police Department and Illinois Secretary of State Police, according to SJR.
Filbrun says having to rely on an outside agency was difficult because they were subject to the agency’s availability.
“We had to depend on if the agency was able to pull officers away,” said Filbrun.
Howard will be paid $25 an hour, which is the standard rate the district pays off-duty officers, says Jason Wind, director of school support. Howard will rotate through all school buildings for two to four hours a week.
Howard and Styxx’s first search was conducted last Wednesday while students were in class. No contraband was found.
The times of the searches will vary, including during the day, after hours or before students arrive in the morning.
Wind says if a dog had searched the building the night before or the morning of the day four bomb threats were made, it would have been easier to determine if the threats were a hoax.
During school hours, students in the part of the building where the dog is sniffing have to stay in the classroom, but those on a different floor can go into the hallway.
“Kids will not know any difference because they’ll be in class,” said Wind.
Prior to hiring Howard, previous searches from outside agencies consisted of eight or nine dogs, which forced every student to remain in a classroom during each search.
National School Safety Center: Police Dogs Not to Be Used as First Resort
According to Ronald Stephens, president of the National School Safety Center, police dogs should only be used when other methods of combating drugs or other contraband have proven insufficient, reports ABC News.
“Certainly, we do not advocate schools carrying out searches just for the sake of searches or dogs sniffing students,” Stephens said. “Before a school starts using drug-sniffing dogs, there needs to be some compelling reason that justifies that there is a drug problem on campus. The best case scenario is that the dogs don’t find anything on campus.”
In 1997, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Galt Union Hough School in Galt, Calif., after administrators began using drug-sniffing dogs. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a teacher, two students and their parents.
The lawsuit claimed administrators had no justifiable reason to conduct random searches. The suit was later dropped after the school district’s Board of Trustees voted to stop using the dogs.
Colo. Principal’s Decision to Use Drug-Sniffing Dogs
Mary White, the principal at Longmont High School in Longmont, Colo., made the decision to bring drug-sniffing dogs into the school last winter.
White says she had many conversations with parents and students, discussing drug and alcohol use among the kids at her school.
Late last spring, a former student told White that he was selling “quite a bit of marijuana” to current students.
“That was just a slap in the face, a cold realization of what’s happening in the building,” White said. “We had used the traditional methods of drug education. We had brought in speakers to talk to the parents and the kids but that did not seem to be enough. The message just wasn’t getting through.”
White held an assembly after making the decision, allowing parents to raise their concerns.
Students also had a chance to see the dogs in action when the contracting company hired by the school made a presentation.
White says students seemed less intimidated after the presentation.
“You have to listen to your students and know what’s going on, but at some point, you have to make a decision and go forward,” said White. “If you just come in with a Gestapo attitude, then all it does is make kids very nervous. It’s counterproductive. You have to lay the groundwork and then follow up on the groundwork.”