Police aim to send message with drug searches, not arrest students

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Friday, January 20, 2012
— The latest sweeps of Janesville middle and high schools yielded no arrests and no drugs, which is what nearly always happens.

But that doesn't mean they aren't a good idea, police and school officials said.

A sweep of Milton High School on Nov. 15 is a great example of what these searches can do, said Sgt. Brian Donohoue of the Janesville Police Department.

Donohoue coordinates the drug-dog searches of Janesville schools, and Janesville K-9 teams were among those conducting the Milton raid.

Dogs sniffled lockers at Milton Middle School, Milton-Edgerton-Clinton Alternative School and Milton High School. They also sniffed students' cars, and that's what turned up marijuana.

Three Milton students were arrested on marijuana charges. One of them was found with what police described as a significant amount of the drug. He was arrested on charges that included possession of marijuana with intent to deliver within 1,000 feet of a school and maintaining a drug vehicle.

Those arrests reverberated throughout the community, Donohoue said.

In other words, they sent a message.

That's the intent of the searches: to deter students from bringing drugs to school, said Mat Haeger, the Janesville district's manager of health and safety.

Donohoue believes that even though the Janesville searches rarely result in confiscation or arrest, they do deter students from bringing drugs to school.

Well, most drugs.

Janesville police dogs Karo and Hardy are trained to detect marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. They won't catch prescription drugs.

Even so, Donohoue believes the searches are valuable if they deter marijuana use, which he believes can be a gateway to drugs such as heroin, which has accounted for an uptick in local overdose deaths in recent years.

Police don't search suspect lockers. School officials do that.

The legal threshold for police to search a locker without a warrant is higher than for a school official, Haeger said.

If drugs are found, school officials can turn that information over to police, Haeger said.

Dogs react to, or "hit on" lockers during every search. When nothing is found, that's likely a sign that the student or the student's coat has been near someone smoking marijuana, Donohoue said, although the student himself may be innocent of ingesting any drugs.

Haeger said three to five administrators search lockers during a typical search.

Dogs have searched Janesville high schools since 2005. Middle schools were added in 2006.

The raids have turned up almost no drugs, which has led some to suggest the students know enough to keep drugs in their pockets, socks or backpacks.

Students are locked in classrooms while the dogs are run through hallways to sniff lockers.

Donohoue said other districts have expanded searches to include random backpack searches. Students are asked to leave their backpacks in a room, and a dog searches the packs.

Haeger said there are no immediate plans to do that here. He said officials have discussed various ways to expand the searches, including expanding them to charter schools, but nothing has been decided.

Janesville officials try to run the dogs through each middle and high school twice each school year. The district has completed one round this year.

Donohoue said that despite the searches, drugs are likely present in schools. School officials are well aware of certain students who arrive at school smelling like marijuana smoke, he said.

Donohoue said Janesville school officials are being trained how to search cars, and searches in student parking lots are likely when the weather warms.

That might make a difference. The only two drug-dog arrests from a school search in Janesville have come from marijuana found in students' cars.

Police: No drugs found during Janesville school searches

A drug-sniffing dog and Janesville police officers searched Marshall Middle School, 25 S. Pontiac Drive, on Tuesday, the school district reported.

The dog reacted 20 times as it was led past 1,080 lockers, leading to searches of 47 lockers, according to a news release. Administrators conducted the searches. No drugs were found in the lockers.

Students and staff were placed in a soft lockdown for 21 minutes during the search. Classroom doors were locked, but classes continued.

The district also announced Thursday that similar drug-dog searches were conducted at Franklin Middle School on Oct. 17, 2011, at Edison Middle School on Oct. 19, 2011, and at Parker High School on Dec. 1, 2011, and Craig High School Jan. 11.

The Franklin lockdown lasted 40 minutes as police and one dog conducted the search of 575 lockers. Dogs reacted 12 times, and administrators searched 38 lockers. No contraband was found.The Edison search lasted 41 minutes. The dog reacted nine times as it was led past 677 lockers. Administrators searched 51 lockers. No contraband was found.

The Parker lockdown lasted 28 minutes as the dog was let past 904 lockers. The dog reacted six times. Administrators searched 18 lockers. Nothing was found.

The Craig lockdown lasted 24 minutes with 1,025 lockers searched. The two dogs reacted nine times. Administrators searched 27 lockers. Nothing was found.

Officials normally search lockers next to and/or behind the lockers that the dogs hit on.

Last updated: 7:16 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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