DRUG DOG ACTIVITY LIMITED BY LAW
Police dogs used for sniffing drugs in schools can perform only a few tasks without violating search and seizure laws, despite some earlier reports regarding drug-sniffing dogs in the Scottsdale Unified School District.
Individuals in the Wickenburg area were left with the impression that the Scottsdale Police Department had been given permission to bring a drug dog on campus to sniff backpacks.
That information, however, was inaccurate.
The Scottsdale school district recently authorized the Scottsdale police to bring a drug-sniffing dog into its schools to sniff lockers and hallways while class is in session.
According to Scottsdale Police Detective Sam Bailey, the drug dog will not sniff students, their backpacks or their cars.
"Contrary to what some reports have said, we will not be running roughshod throughout the Scottsdale schools," Bailey said. "These activities will begin next year and will only take place while students are in class rather than while in the hallway."
Wickenburg Police Chief Tony Melendez told more than 200 people at a drug prevention meeting several months ago that his department's drug dog, Taylor, cannot perform drug-sniffing tasks at local schools without an invitation from the Wickenburg school board.
District Superintendent Archy Hamm confirmed that Taylor is never allowed to sniff students, and he cannot sniff backpacks unless a school administrator believes there is imminent danger on campus.
"Students leave their backpacks in a contained area when we have a genuine fire alarm or bomb scare," Hamm said. "The drug dog can sniff them at that time, but beyond that the dog cannot go near a backpack or purse because those items are considered personal property."
Hamm said the reason dogs can sniff lockers is because the lockers are property of the school, unlike backpacks and purses. And in Wickenburg, a potential drug hazard was alleviated in 1999 when it was decided that lockers would be eliminated at the new high school.
Police Department Commander Gary Newton said that discussions regarding drug prevention took place when the new high school was being designed. He said the police department suggested not having lockers because that is where students generally hide drugs when they are brought to campus.
"By not having lockers, this puts us ahead of many other school districts," Newton said. "We had dogs sniffing lockers at the old high school, and we would be doing the same thing if there were lockers at the new school."
The school district works in conjunction with the Wickenburg police, and Hamm said the two have a good relationship. He said the Wickenburg school board welcomes Taylor's presence on school property, however limited in his activities.
Taylor can sniff vehicles in the high school parking lot, and he is there for that purpose three or four times a year. According to Hamm, several members of the Wickenburg school board would like to see Taylor on campus more frequently.
"We don't really want to do that, because there is the concept of overkill," he said. "We don't want to saturate the dog so that he is no longer effective in the parking lot."
A few weeks ago, Taylor was present at Wickenburg High School. He sniffed approximately 60 vehicles in the parking lot and did not locate any drugs.
Due to Taylor's health, he may never return to work at the high school. He is retiring within the next 60 days.
The 10-year-old American-bred black lab is being treated for hip problems, and Newton said even when the dog is medicated, it has reached a point where Taylor is experiencing pain while he works.
"The situation is getting critical for Taylor, and it's not fair that he should have to endure pain just to satisfy us," Newton said. "He will retire soon and live out the rest of his life with his handler, Detective Chris Sallee."
Newton said Taylor could possibly live a few more years and be happy without the stress and strain of everyday work life. It has not yet been determined how the department will fund the new dog, as the 2005-2006 budget does not include funding for a replacement.
Newton, though, is confident that the department will acquire a new dog this year. He said the cost in getting a dog operational is approximately $7,000.
"We have been contacted by many citizens and businesses who say they want the police to have a drug dog," Newton said. "I have already started the process of picking a new handler and contacting vendors to see what dogs are available and at what price range."
Newton said that Sallee, who was recently promoted to drug detective, will not be handling the new drug dog. However, he did not say who would be the new handler.
Newton said there would likely be a "retirement party" of some kind for Taylor this summer.
Taylor is considered a popular member of the community.
Wickenburg Sun, The (AZ)
Copyright: 2005 The Wickenburg Sun