About 20 people turned out Thursday night to hear about the new “contraband detection” dogs that will be roaming Santa Barbara high school campuses this fall.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District approved a contract this month with Interquest Detection Canines for random visits to Santa Barbara, San Marcos, Dos Pueblos and La Cuesta Continuation high schools starting next school year.
A handler and drug-detecting dog will be assigned to each school to search common areas, lockers, student vehicles and vacant classrooms. The dogs sit to signal that they’ve detected the scent of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, alcoholic beverages, gunpowder or frequently abused medications.
Interquest canine handler Mike Post, who will be assigned to San Marcos, spoke to the group gathered Thursday about how the process works when a search is conducted on campus.
The real star of the show, however, was Skeeter, a 4-year-old lab cattledog mix. The dog was a narcotics-detection canine for a police department in Idaho, but was a casualty of budget cuts when the K-9 unit was eliminated to save money. His next owner decided he was too skilled just to roam the backyard, and now Skeeter works with Interquest and lives with Post, his handler.
Skeeter dutifully sat as Post spoke to the audience, but he immediately got to work when summoned on a row of backpacks set up, with one of them containing marijuana paraphernalia.
Skeeter immediately chose the correct backpack, sitting down next to it as he waited for a handler.
“Our goal is not to bust Johnny or Suzy,” Post said. “Our main focus is to act as a deterrent.”
Drugs such as marijuana leave a distinctive residual odor, one that Post said the dogs can easily pick up on. He added that he searched a car in which a canine detected marijuana, and the car’s owner said he hadn’t smoked marijuana in a month.
Marlin Sumpter, director of student services, also took questions from parents.
One parent asked about what would happen if another student planted drugs in someone else’s backpack in order to avoid being caught.
“Does it happen? Absolutely,” Post said, but added that because of the drug’s residual odor, the dogs should be able to track who handled the drugs last. Post said they’ll work closely with the district to determine the source of the contraband.
The district will hold two other meetings for the public to hear about the searches and to see the dogs in action. The next will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Santa Barbara High School’s theater, followed by a meeting at 6:30 p.m. next Thursday in the cafeteria at Dos Pueblos High School.