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The message gets through: Authorities see fewer drugs on campus

POSTED: May 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Robin Michener Nathan/The Times

Cpl. Earl Roach, a school resource officer, and his drug dog, Bo, demonstrate how Bo reacts when he finds drugs during an exercise in an East Hall High teacher work room.

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Bo the drug dog sniffed along the lockers of his second home, East Hall High School, but when he came up empty, it was to no one’s great surprise.

Fewer drug seizures are made in Hall County schools these days, after the county school system and Hall County Sheriff’s Office entered into an agreement last year authorizing unannounced drug searches.

The drug dogs, two of whom make their rounds in the county system’s six middle schools and six high schools, combined with a rewards program that pays out $200 for anonymous tips, are part of a plan by
authorities and school officials to keep drugs out of school halls and parking lots.

Since last summer, the sheriff’s office and county school system have paid out $6,200 in rewards for tips that resulted in the seizure of drugs and arrests.

"We don’t come into the schools with the intent of arresting someone," said sheriff’s spokesman Maj. Jeff Strickland. "Everything we do is designed to deter students from doing drugs and bringing them into school."

Bo, a smallish, 3-year-old Australian shepherd-lab mix, possesses a cuteness that belies his skill. He and another school drug dog, Luke, were donated by a private citizen specifically for use in schools, and their training to sniff out marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin cost $15,000 at a Wilmington, N.C., canine school.

A unofficial school mascot of sorts, Bo spends most of his days at East Hall and even has a black and gold coat that matches the school colors, his handler, Cpl. Earl Roach, notes.

"I’ve been in the sheriff’s office 17 years, and Bo’s the best partner I ever had," Roach, a school resource officer, said.

Each dog performs on average one search per week in one of the schools.

The major deterrent for students who might think of bringing drugs, Strickland said, "is they never know when they’re
going to come along."

The rewards program sends a message, too, Roach said.

"Kids know if they come into school with drugs and someone else can get $200, there’s a good chance they’re going to get caught; $200 is a lot of money for a high schooler," Roach said.

Cpl. Gene Joy, commander of the school resource officer unit, said "people see (the dogs) and realize we’re here for a reason. But our ultimate goal is to make the school environment conducive to learning."

Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said the programs seem to have "raised the awareness level" among students. He calls the programs "not the only answer, but part of the answer."

"Part of the answer is students standing up and taking ownership, and saying we’re not going to put up with drugs in our schools," Schofield said.



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