Drug-sniffing dog to help police officers on ES school campuses

Friday, June 25, 2010

EUREKA SPRINGS -- With all the discussion in recent months about the use of drug-detecting dogs on Eureka Springs school campuses, Carroll County Sheriff Bob Grudek and Sgt. Mike Zimmerman did a presentation and demonstration on the use of the dogs at the June 17 school board meeting.

Grudek said in his 30 years' experience in law enforcement, he's seen that the majority of people incarcerated in American prisons are there for drug-related crimes.

"I'm a firm believer in prevention," he said. "And Arkansas leads in the nation in prescription drug abuse by teens."

He said the crucial element is educating parents and grandparents about leaving prescription drugs where teenagers can get them, especially "leftover" prescriptions that adults no longer need.

People have often been told to flush unused drugs down the toilet, "but then the drugs go into our water supply," which is not a good thing, he said.

"I have sent a letter to the DEA to get funds to get collection sites for people to turn in unused prescription drugs," he said.

He said drugs collected at these sites would then be taken to St. John's Hospital to be catalogued and disposed of.

All seven pharmacists in Carroll County have agreed to donate funds toward the collection sites, he added.

Grudek said he supports the school district's drug policies of prevention by having the dogs come to sniff in classrooms, outside of lockers and along parked cars. The sheriff's department provides this service free to the schools.

Two deputies from the sheriff's department arrive with the dog, and the searches are conducted with two officers from the Eureka Springs Police Department and either the superintendent or principal.

A concerned parent who declined to give her name asked several pointed questions about students being unjustly accused and suspended if a dog hits on a car that contains miniscule amounts of marijuana that students claim do not belong to them.

"The owner/driver of the vehicle is responsible for what's in that vehicle," Zimmerman replied. "Anything over a seed can be considered 'intent to manufacture.'"

Once the dog detects the presence of drugs, the book bag, locker or vehicle is opened and the contents catalogued by the local police department. The deputies' work is done, Grudek said, and the matter is turned over to the school and local police.

School policy is an immediate 10-day suspension.

The parent asked Grudek to consider the harm done to a student trying to get into college who has to answer "yes" on an application to the question of whether they have ever been suspended. She said if the sheriff is working in partnership with the schools, he should consider the drug policy.

"If you have an issue with the policy, you need to address us because it's our policy," said board President Rusty Windle.

Zimmerman then did a presentation with his drug dog Ringo, who was born and trained in Holland.

He said dogs are trained for 80 hours of narcotics or explosives detection, depending on their temperament. They are also trained for tracking and protection.

Dogs live with their handlers and usually stay in service for about nine or 10 years. When they retire, they stay with the officer for the remainder of their lives.

The parent asked whether there are ever any "false alerts" for drugs, and Zimmerman replied, "Never.

"The Supreme Court says if a dog indicates, that's enough of a probable cause to conduct a search," he said.

For the demonstration, Zimmerman set up three wooden boxes, one of which contained cocaine, and then went to get the dog.

When Ringo came in, he sniffed all three boxes, went back to the first box, then went to the middle box, sniffed a couple times, and sat down to indicate it had drugs in it. Zimmerman confirmed that was the box containing cocaine.

To see a video of Ringo's performance, click on the Play button below.

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