Drug dogs will be higher profile in St. Mary Parish schools next year
Kristen Orson and Laci of LA K9 Search in Jeanerette demonstrated a drug search Monday at The Daily Review office.
(The Daily Review Photo by Crystal Thielepape)
Laci, Bear and CoCo are coming to a school near you.
The three Labrador retrievers are trained to search out narcotics, synthetic marijuana, tobacco, weapons and munitions and are planned to be under contract with the St. Mary Parish School Board once the school system’s budget is passed.
Jeanne Roane, a retired employee of the St. Mary Parish School System, runs LA K9 Search of Jeanerette and was contracted, along with the three dogs and their handlers, for $12,000 for the coming school year.
Searches by police departments are increasingly difficult to come by Superintendent Donald Aguillard said during a school board budget workshop a week ago. Police say there is only one drug-sniffing dog owned by police agencies in St. Mary Parish.
That dog, Lady, is owned by Morgan City Police Department and was purchased in November with $2,500 of school system money and $2,500 from the parish council. The department made up the remaining amount as well as paying for the dog handler team’s training and certifications, according to Capt. James Blair, Morgan City police spokesman.
After being told by Aguillard that they were not receiving the searches they wanted despite owning part of a dog, board member Marilyn LaSalle asked, “What part do we get? The head or the back? Whatever part it is, send it to us.”
With 24 public schools in the parish, the single dog could be overworked.
“We’re limited to the number of searches we can do with the one dog, and they (the school system) want to increase the dog presence at the schools,” Blair said.
Franklin police had a drug dog that retired a month ago, but she was not used for searches of schools last year due to her illness.
Chief Sabria McGuire said she plans to purchase another dog in the future. It will be used for any agency needs, she said.
“I know in the past that the school board has relied on Morgan City to do the searches throughout the parish,” Blair said.
A single police dog works her patrol duties and still can do two to three searches a week. A random search consists of three to four classrooms, and the dog can work 30 to 60 minutes before she becomes fatigued and must rest, Blair said
The school system, on average, received two to four searches a month, Blair said.
“Last year we kind of limited ourselves from the Calumet Cut east because it was getting too hard to do the whole parish with just one dog. We were trying to keep up with the schools on the east end. Toward the end of the year, we opened it up to the whole parish,” Blair said.
LA K9 Search’s contract calls for one search per week of middle and high school sites or two searches per week for smaller elementary sites and includes both the regular school year and summer sessions.
One typical high school search by LA K9 includes classrooms, lockers, the gymnasium and its lockers, bathrooms and band room.
“The completion time is usually one class period, as we bring in enough ‘dog power’ to complete the search in a timely manner. Depending on the size of the school, student parking lots can be done in conjunction with the school search or with the buses at a separate scheduled time,” the letter from LA K9 Search to the school system states.
Roane said the dogs that do the searches — and will be in contact with students — are not aggressive.
“We also have a dog, Itam, that can do a building search, but we don’t bring any aggressive or bite-dogs in the school. Our dogs are very friendly, very social, love children and love their work,” Roane said.
Itam, a Belgian malinois, can assist with a perpetrator in a school, but is not a search dog, Roane said.
Laci, CoCo, Bear and their handlers were trained by Tarheel Canine Training in North Carolina. Tarheel has trained dogs for police agencies across the country as well as for the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force and several other branches of the federal government, according to their website.
The dogs pass a battery of tests before being selected for training. Once they complete their training to detect and alert on specific scents, they train with their handlers. That work continues three times a week, every week, Roane said.
LA K9 is licensed by the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association, insured and certified by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to handle narcotics.
Roane said her goals with her company are “early intervention and prevention.”
“Your children’s lives are at stake. Their future. We’re not here to put anybody in jail. We’re here to get them some help if we find a problem. The school system has excellent resources in place where if we do find contraband, they can get some help,” Roane said.
Roane’s dogs also participate in elementary school educational programs designed to instill in children the understanding that the dogs can not only find drugs in the schools but also detect the route used to bring them in.
Roane said it’s been found that drug dogs on campus are the most effective way to deter drugs.
“You cannot fool the dog. Their scent is 250 million times ours. So, if it’s there, they’re going to find it,” Roane said.