Students in a Michigan district say they feel safer this year thanks to dogs that regularly search schools for weapons and illegal substances, a new survey shows.
Kevin Kinker, a former law enforcement officer, began bringing one or two dogs with him to Mona Shores Public Schools in Muskegon in September to do bimonthly sweeps of each building as a pilot test for his company, K-9 Interventions, Inc. The dogs can detect prescription drugs, alcohol, guns and explosives without having to open bags, lockers or cars.
Kinker offered the pilot program to Mona Shores for free, but other schools in Michigan pay about $5,000 per year for monthly dog visits.
“I like the proactive approach we’re taking,” says Greg Helmer, principal of Mona Shores Middle School. “We’re not trying to catch these kids with illegal substances, but we’re trying to be visible and educate them. Having Kevin and [his search dog] Anna on campus becomes a deterrent.”
The middle school usually has a handful of student violations involving illegal substances each year, Helmer says. In 2012-13, there were four such violations. But this school year, there have been none.
If a dog smells an illegal item, it will lay down in front of a locker or car. Kinker will then report it to school administrators, who will take the next steps and disciplinary action, if necessary.
Helmer says that before the school year started, he gave parents lots of information, including letting them know that K-9 Intervention’s work eliminates the need for random locker checks. He says he has not had any parent complaints.
Most students welcome the dogs. Some 67 percent of middle school students surveyed said they felt safer since the dogs started coming to the school each month, and 95 percent reported that they liked having the K-9 team at school. Another 86 percent said they believe the dogs have thwarted unwanted activities, such as drug use. “The kids enjoy our presence and feel safer,” Kinker says.
The pilot program will end in June, but Helmer says the district is starting to look for funding to keep the service for next year. Kinker also has a network of dog handlers nationwide who can provide the service to any interested district.