Drug-detecting dogs will be visiting the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s four high schools next year on a regular basis, after the Board of Education voted this week to officially approve the contract with Interquest Detection Canines.
The dogs sit down to signal they’ve detected the scent of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, alcoholic beverages, gunpowder or frequently-abused medications.
There will be three public demonstrations of the dogs in action before next fall: at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 17 at San Marcos High School’s cafeteria; 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 21 at Santa Barbara High School’s theater; and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24 at Dos Pueblos High School’s cafeteria.
The district will tell Interquest when not to come — testing days and special events — and the Interquest team will randomly visit from what’s left, going to each site without giving notice in advance.
At each school, the handler and drug-detecting dog will search common areas, lockers, student vehicles and vacant classrooms. Board members have been concerned that the searches wouldn’t truly be random, so the protocols suggest having areas assigned numbers and drawing them out of a bowl, rolling a dice or having the Interquest handlers select a location without any administrator input.
If the dogs “alert” on anything, the belongings will be traced to the student, and both are taken to the school’s office. The Interquest handler will explain the kinds of substances the dogs are trained to detect, and the student will have a chance to explain if there’s anything in his or her belongings the dog would have detected.
The belongings will then be searched by the Interquest handler in the presence of an administrator, staff member and student, with board policies (suspensions and expulsions are normal for finding a prohibited substance) governing the response from there. Any contraband is left with the school, and Interquest provides written documentation of each site visit’s results.
School administrators can contact the parent/guardian of the student, and law enforcement has to be notified if students are found possessing, using, selling, preparing to sell or being under the influence of a controlled substance, alcoholic beverage or intoxicant.
Similarly, if the dogs happen to alert on a staff member’s belongings, the staff member is given the opportunity to respond and is notified that his or her desk will be searched. Staff vehicles won’t be part of the inspections, according to the company’s protocols.
The 2010-11 California Healthy Kids Survey indicates that about 14 percent of the district’s high school students had either consumed alcohol or used marijuana or other illegal drugs on school property during the 30 days before taking the survey, and district statistics show there have been about 260 alcohol- and drug-related infractions every year for the past five years.