After seven years of discussion and debate, Waterford High School will have K-9 units conduct random searches of the building and the parking lots next school year.
“This is an additional tool to really discourage the use of illegal substances, as well as maintaining safety at the schools,” Superintendent Jerome Belair said at the board of education meeting Thursday.
The board of education unanimously favored implementing the searches. Some policies need to be changed, but that could be done by November, Belair said.
Discussions of implementing K-9 searches have been going on for seven years, high school Principal Don Macrino said. This spring, Police Chief Murray Pendleton contacted the principal, saying towns in the state are beginning to use K-9 units in the school “in an effort to maintain a drug-free campus,” Macrino wrote in a memorandum to Belair.
With Pendleton's urging, Macrino, Dean of Students Gene Ryan, Police Sergeant Stephen Bellos and Police Youth Office Nicole VanOverloop went to Suffield High School to watch a K-9 unit conduct a search. Witnessing the event left Macrino “favorably impressed,” he wrote.
Students were put under a “working lockdown,” which means they were kept in the classrooms while the dogs searched the school, a 15-minute process, Macrino said. Then, the dogs were brought outside to search both the faculty lot and the student parking lot, Macrino said.
The dogs found no drugs inside Suffield High School, he said. They found two “positive tests” in the parking lot though, Macrino said.
“What I saw was really a benign activity,” the principal said. “At no point did the dogs come into contact with the students.”
The experience proved decisive. Macrino, with backing of his administration, recommended K-9 searches at Waterford High School.
“I compare it very favorably to us implementing Breathalyzers at high school dances,” Macrino said. “It is really a preventive tool.”
Since Waterford High School used random Breathalyzer tests at high school dances, not a single student has been caught, Macrino said. However, “there are extraordinary fewer instances” of drinking before dances, he said.
“It seemed to take the pressure off of the kids to do drinking before the events because it was the thing to do,” Macrino said.
These searches could provide that same effect, he said.
How It Works
Several teams of dogs will be brought into the high school, while students are in “working lockdown” and not in the hallways, Bellos said. The dogs will search all lockers, closets and all unoccupied parts of the building, all in under 20 minutes, Bellos said.
“Our goal is to get in and out and let the kids get back to their routine,” he said.
Then the dogs will be brought outside to search the parking lot, Bellos said.
If a locker is found to have drugs inside, it will be tagged and the school administration will search it, Bellos said. If an arrest is needed, the police will then be called, he said.
If the dogs find drugs in the parking lot, the police will search the car and be in-control of the investigation, Bellos said. Students will not be searched, he said.
The searches will probably happen once a year, if that, Macrino said. They will not be announced, he said.
A positive “hit” by a dog constitutes probable cause to search, Bellos said. However, all tests will be double-checked by another dog, he said.