Gurney's Inn
September 19, 2007

Drug-Sniffing Dogs At School

Westhampton Beach students who might have considered hiding drugs in their lockers had better think again. Soon, drug-sniffing dogs will be on duty to scout out the stash.

On Monday, parents were invited to a Westhampton Beach Board of Education meeting to learn more about the use of specially trained drug-sniffing dogs in and around the high school including student lockers and vehicles in the parking areas. The Suffolk County Sheriff's Department headed up the presentation.

In a letter to parents, school Superintendent Lynn Schwartz pointed out results from the Teen Assessment Project Report 2006 that indicated 25 percent of students in Southampton Town reported using marijuana, with 23 percent having smoked marijuana before the ages of 13 or 14 and 11 percent of twelfth grade students smoking pot every day.

In the last 30 days, 55 percent of teenagers reported drinking with 32 percent being drunk at least once; 24 percent reported binge drinking at least once in the past 30 days.

Dates for when the dogs will be used on school grounds have not been finalized, but students will also not be made aware of these dates. The canines will canvas the grounds while students are in class.

Deputy Sheriff Captain Richard Clay of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office, as well as Deputy Sheriff and K-9 handler Kevin Tracy, were on hand to discuss the logistics of bringing the dogs to the school. One of three dogs, including Hans, an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois, will be used. The dogs can sniff out heroine, cocaine, hashish and marijuana.

The odor of drugs will linger in a locker, said Clay, so even if the drugs are not found, "the dogs are effective" in scouting out the scent. "If we open a locker and there are no drugs, we know that the dog didn't alert for no reason," said Tracy, adding, "The sheer presence" of the dogs will spark "psychological intimidation," causing a student who might have brought "junk" to school to leave it home.

The bottom line, said Tracy, is that drugs are a reality. "No one wants to hear it, but drugs are in your school."

Tracy added that many students welcome the dogs. The presence of drugs in the school makes many kids "stressed," and most young people, he noted, don't want drugs in their schools and have told him, "I wish you'd come to my school."

Should a small amount of drugs be found the student will be called out of class and down to his or her locker, the drugs will be confiscated, and the matter turned over to the school board. If a felony weight is found, the Westhampton Beach Police Department will be called in and the case will be handled by the district attorney's office.

Schwartz said the dogs are only facet of a comprehensive, multi-pronged plan. "This is not an isolated approach to drug and alcohol prevention," he said, pointing out that the Communities That Care program (see story, Page 11) has been embraced by the district. CTC involves the whole community in tackling the problem – parents, said school board members, must get involved.

Monday's presentation is a response to parents' fear about drug and alcohol use in the school after a part-time custodian at the high school was arrested for possession and sale of illegal narcotics last May.

The arrest was the result of an investigation involving undercover detectives who purchased cocaine from the defendant on the grounds of Westhampton Beach Middle School, which is located on the same campus as the high school.

District Attorney Tom Spota said powdered cocaine was left in an automobile. The defendant allegedly directed the undercover detective to go to the car, parked in the middle school parking lot, leave the money, and take the cocaine. No students were arrested.

Schwartz reminded that protocol for dealing with drug and alcohol abuse is outlined in the district's code of conduct.

Parents asked questions and offered suggestions, such as instituting an anonymous way students can give administration information about possible drug or alcohol use.

Of the drug-sniffing dogs, Aram Terchunian, Vice President of the Westhampton Beach Board of Education, said, "This is not the cure-all, the panacea." He added that it is just one component of the comprehensive approach.

"We're just one tool the school board can utilize," said Clay.

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