Drug-sniffing dogs will roam through Scottsdale schools this spring if some school officials get their way.
Responding to last week’s announcement of a heroin ring bust that authorities said involved 146 Valley teenagers, Scottsdale Unified School District Superintendent John Baracy drafted a plan of attack that would include random school searches using drug-sniffing dogs.
It’s not a new idea. Other valley schools have used dogs, getting mixed results.
Last May, the Fountain Hills Unified School District used dogs to investigate its high school. Gilbert schools have used drug-sniffing dogs in the past, though they tend to be hyper aggressive, said Gilbert police Sgt. Mike Angstead.
Both Chandler and Mesa unified school districts have used undercover operatives in the past to sort out drug problems.
Other schools depend on alert teachers to watch for drug use. Sara Reimer, acting principal for SEES Charter School in Scottsdale, said there are some telltale signs of usage, such as when students lose interest in academics, sleep a lot and have a "hollow look."
The problem now, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, is that students are using drugs on school grounds.
During its eight-month investigation, officers discovered at least 100 instances of students using drugs at school.
One source told detectives that students would snort cocaine and use heroin while attending class lectures.
They would conceal the drugs by placing their backpacks on the desks in front of them.
That’s not news to Brittany Day, 14, and Carlos Alfao, 15.
The two are freshmen at Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School, where the sheriff’s report said much of the heroin use occurred.
On campus, it’s not uncommon to see classmates doing drugs, especially at lunchtime, they said.
But it’s not just heroin, Alfao said — it’s marijuana, Ecstasy, and prescription drugs, to name a few.
"And they brag about it, too," Day said. "I saw one guy just doing Ecstacy in class."
The number of students doing drugs in school is a tiny minority of the student body, Day said, but she added that any drug could be purchased on campus, with the "right connections."
That’s exactly what district governing board president Christine Schild hopes to change by bringing drugsniffing dogs on campus.
"It’s less likely they will bring (drugs) if they know that they could be discovered," Schild said. "Dogs can find trace amounts, so even if you used your backpack over the weekend when you smoked dope and you had a baggie in there, the dogs can find that residue."
Some students heard rumors of canine searches and cleaned out their lockers Monday morning, Alfao said, adding he believes the threat of dogs will keep drugs out of the schools.
"If there was a date set for (the dogs) a lot of people would just stay home," he said. "It’s definitely going to scare them, at least for a while."
But not everyone agrees with searching the schools.
Eleanor Eisenberg, director of the Arizona chapter of American Civil Liberties Union, said such searches make a school seem like a police state.
"If 87 percent of the kids are absolutely drug-free and innocent, and have nothing at all that would merit being searched or being made to feel afraid, then it is just outrageous that they would be doing this," she said.
Searches by school authorities or police officers can only be done after observation of individual behavior and an indication of drug use, she added.
"I find it very, very frightening," she said.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he does not think dogs will stop drug use.
"That’s going to maybe cause some seizures," he said. "What I would like to see, and what I’m going to push, is parents and principals getting together and doing some random drug testing, on the idea that kids will not be expelled or disciplined if they test positive."
Baracy and Schild prefer the dog option, from a legal and a philosophical standpoint.
"Dogs are one thing," Schild said. "But for me to have to give a blood or urine sample even though I don’t use drugs, now we’re crossing a line and I would say that’s not OK."