Law Enforcement and Private Security Use of Detection Dogs In Schools

by Stephen B. Phillips

K-9 Training And Consultation

Recently, it is becoming more apparent that there are different obligations, both legal and moral, when considering the work of using a detection K-9 in the school environment. Some of these issues have yet to be addressed by the legal system, and there is legal president for some of the decisions that have to be considered.

The first thing to be considered is the difference between a Police Officer using the K-9 and the private individual using the K-9 as an agent of the school. For each, I will address the issues as I see them. Please take note that I am NOT an attorney, nor am I offering this as legal advise. This is information for use in helping you formulate a well thought out plan to achieve the best results possible when using a detection K-9 in a school environment. My only legal advise to you would be to have a qualified attorney review all your procedures for legality in your State prior to starting any searches in schools or private industry.

Lets cover the Police K-9 being used in the school system first. Without probable cause or an invitation from the school administration, the police K-9 cannot be used in the school campus setting. In the situation where a Law Enforcement agency is used to run the K-9 and search the lockers, if a properly trained detection K-9 indicates on the odor of a target substance on the locker, probable cause has been established to secure a search warrant to open and search that individual locker. The same is true to come onto the school campus to sweep parking areas used by students. The Law Enforcement official HAS to have a warrant to search the locker, and he is required to follow through to arrest if possible just as if any other crime has been committed in his presence.

So the use of Law Enforcement in searches of schools is greatly limited to a ďgotchaĒ type search and these searches are done usually only once or twice in the school year. Most Law Enforcement agencies measure success by the number of finds and arrests. For this reason alone, many administrators donít want Law Enforcement involved in searches of their schools. The administrators lose control of the results of the search and how each individual case of contraband being found is handled. There is very little proactive use of Law Enforcement K-9s as a deterrent, it is usually a reactive measure because of a perceived problem. Once a year sweeps done in a school offer little, if any, deterrent to the students who might take a chance on keeping their drugs in their lockers, and in some cases, actually encourage those students to do so because once the sweep has occurred, they feel safe in doing so because they know the next sweep wonít come in the balance of this school year.

The reason for the lack of monthly sweeps being done is usually budgetary, both monetarily and in manpower. Sometimes, however, it is because they are only requested by the schools once a year.

Misinformed administrators quite often breath a sigh of relief once the initial sweep is over and only do it in the first place to satisfy an obligation to the parents and community to provide a safe and drug free learning environment. If the truth is told, many administrators fear that they will pay the price if drugs are found on the campus, and fear it will be perceived that they are failing to do their job to protect the student body and employees of the school district.

Now lets discuss the school administration doing their own search of lockers and student vehicles of the school campus. First, lets cover what an agent of the school can and cannot do. As we discussed, for a Law Enforcement Officer to do a search on the school campus, he needs probable cause and a search warrant. This differs greatly from what is required of an agent of the school. An agent of the school only need reasonable suspicion to conduct a search of a student or his belongings. Reasonable suspicion could be that Jane goes to a teacher and tells the teacher she saw Mary take a bag of marijuana out of her purse in the rest room. The teacher, now having a reasonable suspicion that Mary could have contraband in her purse, can take Maryís purse and search it. No warrant is needed. The reality is, the safety of the entire student body eclipses the individual rights of one student.

What about lockers? If the students are informed that the lockers and any locks on the lockers are property of the school at the beginning of the school year, and agent of the school does not even need reasonable suspicion to search the lockers. If the student has put their own lock on a locker and the agent of the school wants to open it to search it, he can simply cut the lock off. The agent of the school can search any one individual locker or every locker in the school, or any number of lockers in between without a search warrant, without probable cause, and with out even reasonable suspicion.

What about students vehicles parked in a school owned parking lot? Again, if the students are advised at the beginning of the school year that any vehicle parked in a school owned lot is subject to search, then the agent of the school can search any vehicle in a school owned lot with out a search warrant, without probable cause, and even without reasonable suspicion. It is a privilege for the student to allowed to park in the schoolís lot, not a right. In order to take advantage of that privilege, the student must give up some of his rights in order to protect the student body as a whole. What if he doesnít agree with the school policy? Simple, donít park a vehicle in the school lot.

Now that we have covered the basics, lets discuss how a proper use of a private security detection K-9 team should be established. There are some basic steps that need to be taken BEFORE the K-9 team is used for a search in the school. Initially, you will have to meet with the school administrators to inform them of how you will proceed. They need to appoint an agent of the school to work with you on any search. They need to know that you WILL NOT PHYSICALLY PERFORM ANY SEARCH!!!! You presence is there only to assist in the process by pointing out areas where it is likely contraband is, or has recently been kept.

First, a student assembly should be presents in which the K-9 team introduces themselves and demonstrates how they work. That should be followed by an administrator addressing the students on what is considered to be contraband by the school. A list should be given to the students. A description of possible consequences for having contraband on the school campus should also be given by the administrator. The assembly should be end by the student body being informed the lockers and lock and the parking areas on campus are owned by the school and open to search at any time. It also should be stated that from this point on, random searches for contraband will be done, some involving the use of K-9s to detect the contraband. End by telling the students that your idea of success of the program is that the dog fins nothing and that it isnít your intention to get anyone arrested, and thatís why you are warning them not to keep or carry contraband in the school. The idea of the assembly is that it lessens the expectation of privacy by the student.

Next come the searches themselves. The searches should be totally random, never done on the same day of the week or same time of day. Donít inform ANYONE, including the administration when you are coming. Go to the entry door and call the school on your cell phone to have them let you in and call in your appointed agent that works with you. Donít underestimate the students ability to outguess you! All steps should be taken to not hinder the learning environment of the school when performing the search. Try and be in and out before a period has ended and students are in the halls. If that is not possible, exit the school during the period break and re-enter to finish. Lockdowns are OK as long as it doesnít interrupt the students going from class to class. Donít attempt to do the whole school under lockdown if it means students staying in the same classroom longer than would be a usual period time.

It is not necessary in a proactive program to search the entire school each time you go to the school. Let the administration tell you of any ďhot spotsĒ you want searched, and then randomly pick the rest of the areas you can cover in your allotted time yourself. The same hold true for the school owned parking areas. The idea of the proactive program is to let the student know if they keep contraband at the school or in their vehicles on the school campus it is very likely they will get caught. It is not to search every possible area of the school campus in the hopes of catching people to prosecute. This is the main difference between how most Law Enforcement officials and Private Security companies think and operate. As I said, once a year searches do little to deter, and you will want to do monthly, or Bi-monthly searches to accomplish the goal to deter the students from storing contraband on school property.

Very quickly, lets touch on a moral decision that has to made if you are a Police Officer that wants to do private K-9 work for yourself or another company on the side. As a sworn Police Officer, you are required to take action, on or off duty, any time a crime is committed in your presence. That is to act as a Police Officer in your own jurisdiction, or to inform another Police Officer when outside your own jurisdiction. Since the trained indication of a properly trained detection dog is the indication of a possible commission of a crime, where does that leave you? Do you have to initiate a search? If you do, and you find controlled substances, are you required to follow through to arrest? Can you simply dispose of user amounts and peruse arrest of saleable amounts? Can you say nothing and let the school or your employer handle it? These are very important moral and ethical consideration that have to be dealt with BEFORE going to work for a private detection company or doing private detection on your own. This could effect your relation with the employer of the detection company you work for and could influence your work ďon the jobĒ as well. A careful consideration has to be given here before you proceed with private detection work. I donít have the answers for you, only the questions. You have to let your conscience be your guide and do what you think is right, or what you are willing to live with!

Last, let me remind you to keep what you are doing in perspective. You will not be the answer to the drug problem, although you will be part of the solution of keeping drugs out of the schools you work in. Unfortunately, the kids doing drugs are not going to stop doing drugs because you are coming to the school to search with your K-9. But, since they will not feel comfortable keeping drugs in the school, you will be stopping them from exposing others who might use the opportunity to start using drugs because they are available to them at school. You are helping to create a safer environment for the students to learn in, and for the educators to teach in. That in itself is a GREAT contribution to the communities you work in.