The day and the hour are a closely guarded secret—until Casey simply appears out of the blue, and seemingly out of place on school grounds.
Once she enters a school building, the daily bustle comes to a halt. The school is put on lockdown and students are kept in their classrooms. All they can do now is wait for Casey, the drug-sniffing dog, to finish her work. Sometimes, Casey gives the all clear and what started out as a typical day stays that way. Other times, Casey “alerts” her attending officer with a scratch and a bark, perhaps on a student’s locker or car, and someone’s day takes a turn for the worse.
Curious about the process behind random drug scans in Harford County Public Schools, I accepted an invitation from HCPS to tag along on a scan one day this spring. I got some advance notice as to the day and an early morning text message with the place and time: North Harford High School, 8:00 a.m.
I drove to the school and waited for Casey to roll up in her specialized police van, driven by her handler from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. In the school’s main office, I met with a group including Bob Benedetto, chief of security for HCPS and Craig Thompson, the school’s resource officer. Shortly thereafter, Casey got down to business.
We followed along as Casey snuffled her way through the school. Trained to alert officers to the presence of a variety of controlled dangerous substances ,and with nose enough to sniff out quantities as small as seeds and as nebulous as residual smoke, Casey made fairly quick work of students’ lockers and cars. She searched up and down, sometimes standing on her hind legs for a better whiff, and needing only an occasional prod to stay on task –discipline you had to admire. I had mixed feelings about a seeing her give an alert; the reporter in me wanted to see what Casey would do, but the parent in me hoped she wouldn’t have cause to do it that day.
Harford County Public Schools conducts random drug scans at least once a year inside every middle school and twice a year at each high school, once inside and once outside. Additional scans are also conducted at the request of the principal. While they have been subjected to court challenges, random drug scans in schools are legal in the U.S. and have been in use in county schools since 1998. Such scans have been legally differentiated from searches which, according to Benedetto, are also allowed under Maryland law when they are based on a reasonable suspicion that a violation of law or school policy is occurring, or that evidence of a violation will be found in the search. The full HCPS policy on the use of drug detecting dogs can be found here: http://www.hcps.org/BOE/PoliciesProcedures/docs/Safety_and_Security/0006-000%20Use%20of%20Drug%20Detecting%20Dogs%20in%20Secondary%20Schools.pdf
When a drug-sniffing dog alerts in a county school, the student is pulled from class, the dog is removed from the area, and the suspected locker or car is searched. If the alert is given on a locker, an administrator conducts the search of school property; if the alert is on a vehicle, police conduct the search, with the school’s resource officer overseeing all investigations. Parents are notified regardless of the findings.
If a controlled dangerous substance, such as marijuana, heroin or cocaine, is found, the student is subject to both school discipline and police action, including possible arrest. As with North Harford High School, most area schools fall under the jurisdiction of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. But searches of schools inside the municipalities of Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace are handled by their respective police departments, each with their own version of Casey.
In the end, there were no alerts that day at North Harford. But that didn’t stop Casey from making her presence known. Just before we left the building, she let out a few sharp barks, as if to say, “I’ll be back.”
Below are the results of the drug searches in HCPS for the 2010-11 school year: