March 15, 2013
Last Monday night, the Helena Public School Board of Trustees received a demonstration from the Houston based Interquest Detection Canines as they prepare to start using contraband sniffing dogs in several schools next year.
Three staff members from the company, including Dennis Jones, the regional operations manager, and three dogs, were showcased for their ability to detect drugs such as prescriptions, marijuana and alcohol. Interquest also offers on-site drug testing and alcohol breath test kits. Several dogs are also trained in firearms and explosives detection.
According to Kent Kultgen, superintendent of Helena Public Schools, the plan is to hire Interquest to do random inspections in Helena High, Capital High, Helena Middle School and C.R. Anderson beginning in 2014, pending a hearing to get the public’s comments before deciding if the use of the canines will be permitted. According to the school board, parents are in favor of the move.
Kultgen asserted that the move is not meant to be “a gotcha” program but that it would be part of the growing security effort set to be rolled out in Helena’s public schools.
Civil liberties advocates have argued that random searches are not prompted by probable cause and a warrant therefore making them questionable legally. Interquest claims their searches stand up in court, saying that a dog alerting to a locker or car provides reasonable suspicion.
Just last month the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the Florida v Harris case, where it was decided in a 9-0 ruling, authored by Justice Sotomayor, that a drug dog’s “alert” establishes probable cause.
Worries over false positives when a dog is mistaken in thinking there is an illegal item present are also brought into question. Several reports, including one out of a North Caldwell, N.J., high school, showed that lockers were searched and deemed to be clean after dogs had alerted to them.
The Superintendent of Sachem High School North on Long Island Charles J. Murphy admitted back in 2009 that several lockers searched ended up being false positives.
“Dogs have searched the school twice since January, and no narcotics have been found, though the dogs did indicate several lockers which were found to contain nothing illegal,” Dr. Murphy said.
Just last month, a student in Texas had her brownies confiscated after a dog alerted to them. The police allegedly informed the student that there was “no way the dog would ever be attracted to the chocolate” and would only be alerting to marijuana in the brownies. After results from a lab test that took two and a half months came in, the brownies ended up not containing any drugs.
“Do students give up all of their constitutional rights when they enter onto school property? Do they keep some rights but forfeit others? If yes, which rights?” said attorney office Pratt & Simmons, referring to another case of false positive.
“Should high school students be given more constitutional protections than middle school or elementary school students? Should school lockers be allowed to be searched but automobiles not be allowed to be searched? Should drug sweeps be allowed? In other words, should drug dogs be allowed to sniff every locker? Every bag? Every automobile? Every student? Or should only focused searches be allowed? Should there be articulable suspicion for focused searches? There are many questions and very few answers.”
Debate over the accuracy of the dogs is still ongoing. Records of drug-sniffing dogs in a Washington state school district alone showed that dogs were incorrect 85 percent of the time they alerted. A Chicago study of drug dogs used for roadside vehicle searches showed a 56 percent rate of false positives. UC Davis researchers published a study that found that drug dogs falsely “alerted,” or identified a scent, when there was no scent present more than 200 times.
“They can tell you that something’s there, that’s not there, simply to get praise, to get food, to get whatever they’re working for,” says Auburn University professor Larry Myers, one of the country’s leading experts on canine detection programs.
“It is a tremendous problem. We have trainers that can’t train. Dogs are being used that can’t –don’t know how to do anything. We honestly don’t have a set curriculum. We’ve got to get everybody up to some minimal agreed level,” said Myers, speaking to the lack of regulation to certify drug dogs.
Others say the accuracy is much higher in the better dogs. “The best-trained dogs have an accuracy rate of 85 to 90 percent,” said James Greco, head trainer for Long Island K-9 Service.
Few would argue against the importance of using dogs with the ability to detect such things as explosives in many security related situations. The argument nationally appears to be over whether or not such programs actually reduce drug use or most importantly, if they uphold students and people’s constitutional rights.
Although there isn’t an official database with statistics on how many schools currently use drug dogs, Interquest alone contracts dogs to 1,200 school districts and 5,000 campus locations in 19 states.
Mikael’s article first appeared at Examiner.com.