GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Charlie Brown, security director for West Michigan’s Rockford school district, believes “every school had drugs in it.”
That’s why Rockford schools and numerous others in the area employ the services of Interquest Detection Canines of Michigan, Inc. – to search out illegal substances in school, such as drugs, weapons and other prohibited items, Mlive.com reports.
And the dogs are quite effective.
Records obtained by the news site through public information requests shows Interquest has discovered more than 86 prohibited substances or items in area schools since 2011. The finds are mostly alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and drug paraphernalia, but the dogs have also discovered other prohibited items like cap guns and fireworks, Mlive.com reports.
The Interquest dogs, Golden Retrievers, have even found marijuana pipes made of fruit, and alcohol sealed in plastic food containers.
“It’s not about busting them, it’s about them not having it,” Byron Center High School Principal Scott Joseph told the news site.
And students in some schools have more things they’re not supposed to than others.
Searches at Forest Hills high and middle schools revealed 28 student code violations, while searches at nearby Grandville schools netted 26 violations. Searches at Kentwood schools turned up 22 violations, and those at Byron Center produced 10 violations. The dogs only found two violations at Rockford schools, and came up empty pawed at East Grand Rapids, Mlive.com reports.
Most of the schools hold assemblies to explain the searches, and to inform students of their privacy rights, including the fact that the dogs cannot search individual students. School officials also lay out the punishment for violators, which can range from detention to suspension, depending on the substance.
Schools like Byron Center also send a video message to students and parents about the searches, Joseph said.
“We want kids to be successful here and we want them to feel that being safe and secure in their environment is very important,” Forest Hills Central Principal Steve Passinault told Mlive.com.
“They don’t want illegal substances in their building,” he said. “They want a safe environment and they know that by doing these searches, it helps us reach that goal.”
The ACLU of Michigan, however, sees things differently.
“It turns students into suspects in a place where they should be nurturing them and focusing on their learning,” Mark Allen, the agency’s spokesman, told Mlive.com. “There are ways to do a search that are more narrow and don’t implicate people’s privacy rights.”
Interquest also plants drugs in school lockers and other locations during searches to keep the dogs sharp, but the canines have also discovered things students inadvertently brought with them to school, like a prescription not registered with the school or hunting firearms left in vehicles, according to the news site.
“When you’re in a situation like that, you have to use common sense,” Grandville High School Principal Chris VanderSlice told the news site. “Those aren’t the situations we’re trying to catch.”
Regardless, the dogs seem to be making a difference as the number of violations at many schools are on the decline. At East Kentwood, for example, the number of discoveries have went from 12 in 2011 to eight in 2012 to two last year, superintendent Mike Zoerhoff said.
“ … (I)t appears that the canine searches are accomplishing what we had hoped,” he told Mlive.com.