K-9s search two Bartow schools
by Amanda Ryker
Jan 06, 2012 | 6487 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Law enforcement officers and their K-9s wait to enter Woodland High School Thursday morning where they searched for drugs as well as other illegal goods or items.  SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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"Attention teachers, we are entering code red. Please follow those instructions."

The announcement that Woodland High School was on lockdown frightened unsuspecting students, teachers and parents as school resource officers were joined by K-9 units from neighboring agencies to perform a routine drug search at the school.

Before traveling to the high school, officers met at South Central Middle Schools for a sweep there and a debriefing prior to heading to the larger campus.

"We try to do these searches twice a year," Bartow County School Resource Officer Donnie Scott said. "We usually pick a day from the calendar and tell the principals and they say OK."

Accompanied by K-9 units from the Acworth Police Department, Polk County Sheriff's Office, Floyd County Sheriff's Office, Cobb County Campus Police and Georgia State Patrol troopers, the resource officers walked through the campuses with administrators and a K-9 for a routine search.

"The teachers didn't know, the student's didn't know and very few administrators knew until [Thursday] morning," Scott said during the debriefing. "The school will be on lockdown, and this will be a surprise."

Scott said the team would be searching for drugs, including but not limited to marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as firearms and bombs.

Walking through parking lots and the performing arts center, WHS Assistant Principal Dr. Bob Butler and Cobb County Campus Police Sgt. Mike Rolfe agreed that the searches were a positive move.

"The purpose is to educate everyone that the [law enforcement] presence is there," Butler said. "We're not trying to catch anyone and we hope we don't catch anyone today. ... It's a fine-edged sword -- we don't want to catch anyone but we do at the same time."

"It's a deterrent," Rolfe said. "I try to tell kids that marijuana is so pungent that it sinks into the pores of your clothes. If you smoke a joint a week ago it's still going to be on there. ... All we can do is try to deter them from bringing drugs to campus."

Rolfe addressed Campus Police Chief Dan Knowles' decision to bring in extra dogs for validity and clarification purposes.

"It's wonderful to have different dogs from different training areas," Rolfe said. "If one alerts on something it could be suspicious. If two alert on the same thing and the same place, then it's more likely something is there."

Rolfe noted that the slow, deep breathing of the dog is how handlers can tell if they've found something. In those situations, there are two routes that could be taken to justify an investigation or search of someone's backpack, purse, locker or vehicle.

"Reasonable suspicion is usually when the principal has a suspicion that a particular student has had something and should be checked," Rolfe said. "Probable cause is when the dog has a response to something."

Multiple dogs were brought in for the sweep to keep them active and prevent them from getting tired quickly.

"After about an hour the dogs get tired," Knowles said, "so we bring in several."

Dogs are not allowed to sniff people, but a few random classrooms were emptied for the animals to sniff backpacks, coats and purses.

Jumping softly to reach the top of a table, Rolfe said that his K-9 -- 5-year-old Campo -- has "been known to lick a few Cheetos."

"The safety of our students is important," WHS Principal Dr. Melissa Williams said. "I think we should do this every two months. We're usually not looking for drugs when we find them. It's usually a search for something else."

Soon after Woodland's "code red" began, several calls flooded the school phone lines as well as that of Knowles.

Explaining why the school was on lockdown and teachers were unaware of the actions outside their classrooms, Knowles said it was all part of the safety plan.

"We want to make sure the teachers and students do what they're supposed to do under lockdowns," Knowles said. "The teachers are supposed to lock the doors and turn off the lights and get all of the kids into classrooms. One time we did a drill and they knew it was a drill and kids were roaming the halls saying they had passes to the bathroom from their teacher.

"[Lockdown] also keeps people from moving. With the dogs, they're highly trained, and if they're surprised when they turn a corner and there's a kid there, they see that as a threat and may attack. No movement gives us more control."

According to Bartow County Sheriff Clark Millsap, his department was not notified prior to the search.

"One of the K-9 units was asked to participate two weeks ago, but he was out of town [Thursday] and I can not let the other K-9 go when it's the only one available," Millsap said.

The Adairsville K-9 unit was attending a training session for certification and, therefore, was unavailable to participate.

Maj. Jessica Pruett of the Bartow E911 division said her office was not notified prior to receiving calls concerning the event.

"We have notified them of fire drills and such so that they don't dispatch units. ... We have practiced these drills at other locations and did not notify them," Knowles said. "We've just never had this kind of reaction from a drill. The beginning of last school year we had a former student at CHS with two guns and we locked it down."

A similar drill was performed at Cass High School before the winter break and Knowles said drills will continue.