Naugatuck High School will soon be allowing police dogs to come onto school property for the purpose of searching school lockers and student vehicles for narcotics.
High school Principal Janice Saam presented the new initiative to the Board of Education on Thursday, saying the move will be necessary for combating the problems of students possessing, selling and using drugs on the .
“I want to emphasize it’s search school property not people,” Saam said, kicking off a presentation on the initiative during the board's monthly meeting at .
The concept, she said, has already gotten approval from Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson, as well as parents, students and business members in the community whom she spoke with.
“I hope we don’t catch anybody… because that only just triggers a whole lot of stuff that comes afterwards,” Saam said. “My goal is to send a clear message: we don’t want drugs at Naugatuck High School. They have no business being here we don’t want them in a safe healthy environment.”
It’s not certain how frequent the searches will be, however Saam indicated it would be more than a few times a year. She said parents will soon be notified about the new drug-sniffing dogs through a letter sent home, and that parents may be made aware about the date of the random searches through the school district's Code Ed notification system.
"We do feel it’s a mutual goal, including the school’s (goal) and ours, to provide a drug free safe environment," explained Deputy Chief Joshua Bernegger, who was on hand during the presentation on Thursday.
Officer Kevin Zainc, who operates a K-9 unit at the , explained the basics on how the search, called a “sniff” in police lingo, would go. The school would first be put into a lockdown mode, notifying students that they would be required to remain in their classrooms and not enter the hallways.
Then, a team of 8-12 police canines and officers would enter the building, and sweep the entire floor plan of the high school, Bernegger explained. He said the search would take roughly 20 minutes, and would be held during the school’s 10 a.m. period, Bernegger said.
“During the course of the sniff of the lockers if the dog was to smell something such as a drug scent he would then alert the handler, indicating to the handler there’s an illegal substance in that locker,” Zainc said.
The locker would be marked and the school would be notified, allowing for school administrators to open the locker and search for the illegal contraband. If any is found, then the police will seize it for purpose of the investigation, or destroy it, Zainc said.
“This is consistent of the dog walking by the locker,” Bernegger told the board. “(The lockers) aren't all opened up for the dog to stick his snout into or anything.”
Zainc said the police dogs can identify eight types of narcotics: marijuana, hashish, cocaine, crack, heroine, methamphetamines, steroids and ecstasy. Some police dogs are capable of identifying various oxycodone drugs, while other can’t, he said.
Apart from conducting locker sniffs, the deputy chief said there will also be drug searches done in the school’s parking lot. Despite being personal property, school officials have the capabilities to search the cars because when students rent the spots in the front parking lot, they sign waivers that forgo specific rights to privacy, both Saam and Bernegger said.
But the school’s upper lot — located on the northern part of school grounds off of Millville Avenue — is owned by the borough. That means police are not allowed to go into those vehicles unless they get consent from the owners, Bernegger said.
Saam noted that most likely students that possess drugs will have them in their possession, and not in their lockers. But, again, she reinforced the fact that the dogs will not search the students.
Saam admitted that maybe the search dog might only find a leftover sent from drugs on a jacket, but that’s enough to keep the administration aware of that student that owns the jacket.
“At least, we’ll know that student’s on our radar, that student’s on notice,” Saam said. “And the message we send is, ‘keep it out of here we don’t’ want it.’”
Police and school officials clarified that there would be no need to amend the education board’s laws on school security. The search is within the parameters and is permissible by the district’s code, they said.
But Chairman David Heller asked about a previous issue with a school lock down for drugs, which happened at Wolcott High School in October. According to The Hartford Courant, officials at that high school put the school in lockdown for an “intruder alert,” which turned out being a search for drugs on school property.
The problem with that situation, explained Naugatuck police officer Charles “Chip” Schofield, was the way the school handled it. Schofield, who was present during that search, said the school made the lockdown sound as if it was a dangerous person in the building, rather than making it clear the search focused on drugs.
“That’s not our goal,” he told the board members.
Heller then noted that previous boards of education have been opposed to such drug searches in the past. When asked what the downside to the searches would be, Schofield responded “I can’t tell you why we would not want to (conduct searches).”
“As a parent of children that go to the schools, I would want this,” Schofield said.