Education

Detection dog could search Woodland schools for drugs, alcohol

Elk Grove K-9 drug dog Radar sniffs out a bag of marijuana in the bed of a truck during training Wednesday December 30, 2004. Radar, a 20 month old yellow lab, was the first K-9 on the Elk Grove Police force. The Woodland Joint Unified School District is also considering use of Labrador Retriever in its schools.
Elk Grove K-9 drug dog Radar sniffs out a bag of marijuana in the bed of a truck during training Wednesday December 30, 2004. Radar, a 20 month old yellow lab, was the first K-9 on the Elk Grove Police force. The Woodland Joint Unified School District is also considering use of Labrador Retriever in its schools. Sacramento Bee File Photo

A dog would sniff for contraband at five schools in the Woodland Joint Unified School District starting next month if trustees approve a contract Thursday with a canine detection firm.

The proposal calls for a dog to sniff school lockers, classrooms, vehicles in parking lots and common areas, including restrooms. The dog would search for drugs, alcohol or the presence of gunpowder, according to district officials.

The idea emerged during annual meetings with parents, said Assistant Superintendent Tom Pritchard. As a result, the district tallied how many of its roughly 10,000 students were involved in drug or alcohol incidents during the 2015-16 school year. The total was 220 in grades seven through 12, he said, or about 8 percent of the nearly 2,900 students in those grades.

“We’re trying to send a message that we want safe and secure campuses,” he said.

The dog will not sniff people, said representatives with Canine Ventures LLC, a Chico-based franchise of national firm Interquest. For now, the Chico franchise has one Labrador retriever, Miley.

Canine Ventures founders Meg and Terry Bogue described Miley as a gentle dog that is non-threatening and will not sniff students. Terry Bogue said their dogs are trained to detect illegal drugs, stimulants or depressants, alcoholic beverages, gunpowder and flash powder, such as firecrackers.

Under the proposed $13,125 contract, Canine Ventures would make seven random visits to each of five schools through the balance of the academic year: Douglass and Lee middle schools, as well as Pioneer, Woodland and Cache Creek high schools.

“When we speak to superintendents after we’ve been doing their schools for a while, they’re always more enthusiastic” about the drop-offs in suspensions and expulsions, Terry Bogue said.

While the proposal has drawn little opposition in Woodland, the ACLU of Northern California takes issue with Canine Ventures’ practice of asking students to step outside classrooms and leave behind their backpacks, purses, jackets and other personal items while a dog sniffs.

Michael Risher, an ACLU senior staff attorney, said the California attorney general’s office declared that approach unlawful in 2000. The opinion issued in November 2000 concluded that school administrators may not direct students to exit classrooms and leave their personal belongings for random canine sniffing to detect drugs without reasonable suspicion.

The Bogues said they have been in business for 14 years and that their program is on solid legal ground.

If trustees approve the plan, the district will work with Interquest to implement a program that follows district policy, said district spokeswoman Callie Lutz.

In the Sacramento region, the Elk Grove Unified School District has used dogs on campus for more than a decade.

“We still have random canine visits” using canines from the Sacramento (County) Sheriff’s Department and the Elk Grove Police Department,” said district spokeswoman Xanthi Pinkerton.

But the three comprehensive high schools in the Folsom Cordova district quit the practice last year, said spokesman Dan Thigpen. The high schools can ask law enforcement anytime to use drug dogs as a deterrent, he said. But administrators there have rarely used them in recent years.

Rio Americano High School in 2015 explored the idea of random school searches with drug dogs as part of a larger safety program. The school chose to drop the canine idea, according to an email from Principal Brian Ginter.

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