One chocolate Labrador Retriever has changed the nature of drug searches in Randolph County schools, enabling the potential search of students.
When K-9 Officer Macy joined the Elkins Police Department as the force's drug and tracking dog in mid-November, city officials anticipated Macy would be helpful in detecting the presence of drugs during traffic stops and on warranted searches.
Randolph County School officials also foresaw that, as a passive drug dog, the 21-month-old Labrador Retriever could be brought into schools to look for drugs without fear of any student being harmed.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Katie Kuba
Cpl. C.D. Cross with the Elkins Police Department and Elkins Mayor Duke Talbott introduce K-9 Officer Macy during her second week of work with the EPD in November 2012.
So, the school system and the City of Elkins entered into a contract, whereby the school system has agreed to pay the city $6,000 annually - a sum that will likely decrease in subsequent years - for the acquisition of Macy and the training of her and her handler, Cpl. C.D. Cross.
In return, the EPD has pledged to use Macy to search each of the following county schools at least twice a year - the middle and high school sections of Harman School, Elkins Middle School, Elkins High School and Tygarts Valley High School, EPD Chief Rob White said in a recent interview with The Inter-Mountain.
What's different about Macy, Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Terry George recently told The Inter-Mountain, is the passive K-9 officer "makes it possible for us to get close to the kids, with absolutely no possibility of a student being injured."
"She will not attack or react aggressively even if she hits (finds drugs) on something," George explained.
Macy is a passive drug dog, meaning she does not physically search people; instead she searches the air around them, EPD Chief Rob White recently explained. And when Macy detects the presence of marijuana, opiates, methamphetamine or cocaine - or some derivative thereof - she assumes a sitting position in front of the person or object bearing the substances. This alerts her handler, Cpl. C.D. Cross, that further action is warranted.
Such action could include a police search of students.
"Macy can be walking past students and if she reacts (indicates drugs are present on a student), you can have probable cause for an officer to search (the student)," George said. However, George and former Randolph County Schools Superintendent Dr. James Phares said police cannot search students unless their parents are present.
"Before a student can be searched by an officer," Phares told an Inter-Mountain reporter in December, "the parents must be present."
Both George and White were adamant that Macy would not be searching the students.
"We don't allow dogs to search the students," George said. "Macy doesn't do student searches. That's not permitted."
Macy does, however, search the air around students, said White, which is legitimated by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling which holds that "there is no expectation of privacy in the air around a person," White said. "Or in the air anywhere, for that matter."
The police chief said that although Macy may be used to establish probable cause, the EPD won't be lining students up to be searched.
"We're not going to line the students up and have the dog go down and smell each one of them," White said. "Now, if during the course of a normal search of the building, the dog would detect something, we may investigate further."
George said he sees Macy as a "second reinforcement" to the school system's drug testing policy. Under that policy, quarterly drug testing via hair samples is performed on a randomly selected group of student athletes, student drivers and students participating in extracurricular activities. Any parent may also opt his or her child into the drug testing program, George said, noting that of 200 tests administered during the 2011-2012 school year, not one returned a positive result.
K-9 Officer Macy expands the administration's reach as to how many students it can monitor for drug possession.
"We can use Macy to look at kids not in our random pool," George said. "She gives us an alternative to look and see if students are bringing drugs into the school that we might not otherwise know about."
George said parents in Randolph County are aware that random drug searches occur, although the school system has not specifically notified parents that it will be utilizing Macy, who could potentially be used to establish probable cause for a police search.
"This is a very good collaborative effort on our part and on the part of the city," George remarked. "The passive drug dog is sending a message that is getting through to our students - drugs and alcohol will not be tolerated. Students need to surround themselves with positive activities, including extracurricular activities, sports, school activities and enjoying friends."
Staff Writer Beth Christian Broschart and Night Editor Anthony Gaynor contributed to this report.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.