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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2007
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Trained dogs to search Morgan County schools for drugs, weapons

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com · 340-2432

If you are a Morgan County high school student, you might want to make sure you cleaned your truck or car of shotgun shells left there from a recent dove or deer hunt.

You might want to make sure there are no cigarettes, alcohol, tobacco or drugs — legal or illegal, and even if they’re not yours — in your vehicle or locker.

Morgan County Learning Center Principal Layne Dillard said Morgan County Schools hired Interquest Detective Canines of Demopolis, a company that uses trained dogs to search for items that schools do not allow on campus.

Dillard said a dog searched 150 cars, five classrooms and about 300 lockers Wednesday at Priceville High School. The service from this private company costs about $24,000. The school system pays the fee with federal Title 4 money that focuses on drug-free and safe schools.

At least 1 search a month

She said the fee pays for at least one search a month at each high school and junior high, and some repeat visits.

Dillard said they held assemblies at each school to warn the students, but many didn’t realize how sensitive the dogs’ noses are. She said they found empty shotgun shells, used on a hunting trip, from outside the vehicle.

The dogs found the parents’ prescription drugs in a vehicle they let their children drive.

“We told them that’s like getting pulled over by the police and having alcohol in your car,” Dillard said. “If it’s in your car or your possession at the time, it’s yours.”

Dillard said the company searched all five high schools in the past month. She said word spread quickly from Danville High to Falkville High about searches. She said students aren’t happy about the searches, but they get used to them and officials find less every subsequent search.

Word of mouth

“Those students talk, so we didn’t find near as much when we went to Falkville the day after we went to Danville,” Dillard said.

She said the U.S. Supreme Court gave the OK to a similar program.

Phil Hastings, director of safety and alternative education for Decatur City Schools, observed the dogs in action in Morgan County. The dogs impressed him. When a dog finds a car or locker with a suspicious smell, it lies down and waits for its handler to began the search.

“I was amazed at how long they (dogs and handlers) work without a break,” Hastings said.

Decatur uses the city’s canine unit from the Police Department for its searches. Hastings said they smell only for marijuana and illegal drugs, so he might consider using this private company to supplement what Decatur is already doing.

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