When a drug-sniffing dog named Baro searched Eastside High School earlier this year, four grams of marijuana were found and two students were arrested, according to records obtained by The Greenville News and Independent Mail.
It’s a common sight in schools in the Upstate — police dogs in hallways and classrooms, their noses turned to the air for the smell of contraband.
“The dogs act as a great deterrent for any would-be drug users or drug sellers who might have contemplated bringing illegal drugs to school,” said Sgt. Ryan Flood of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.
While school and law enforcement officials say the dogs help ensure a safer environment, a civil rights group says the searches have the opposite effect on students.
Bringing police dogs to schools “can only exacerbate an already stressful situation, leaving students terrorized and feeling unsafe in their own school,” said Susan Dunn, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina.
The overwhelming majority of Upstate parents surveyed, however, say they have no problem with the dogs.
“It helps to keep drugs out of schools, and it allows the police to be seen in schools without there necessarily being something negative going on,” Williamston parent Kitty Lee said in response to a Facebook post.
Arrangements for drug searches at schools vary by school district
The use of drug dogs varies by school district, with some spending thousands of dollars per year on private contractors to conduct the searches and others relying on the local sheriff’s office K-9 unit.
In Greenville County, K-9 Baro and his handler routinely conduct random “sniffs” at every middle and high school several times a year, Flood said. Sheriff’s office records show Baro was deployed 113 times between August 2017 and February 2019 and searched nearly 350 classrooms and 11,000 lockers.
“We conduct sniffs if the principal or administration specifically requests it, if a SRO requests it and on a random basis,” Flood said. “Obviously, if something comes up at a particular school, then we may have more visits than others.”
Some schools are searched more than others. Wade Hampton and Eastside high schools have each been searched at least eight times since the beginning of the school year. Berea High has been searched six times, Berea Middle five times and Carolina High twice, records show.
In rare cases, the sheriff’s office will conduct searches on school buses, Flood said.
The arrests at Eastside High in January are the only arrests made due to searches during the current school year, according to records. In the 2017-18 school year, two Berea High students were arrested after a total of 7 grams of marijuana was found during two drug different sweeps, records show.
Baro is part of the School Enforcement Unit, an investigative division of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, said district spokeswoman Beth Brotherton. The cost of the unit is split 50-50, with the school district paying $1.2 million in fiscal year 2018 for salaries, benefits and vehicle expenses for the officers in the unit, Brotherton said. The unit includes 11 school resource officers, a K-9 handler and four other positions.
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