When canines arrive on a high school campus to sniff out drugs, a texting frenzy among students quickly spreads the news. These “drug dogs” have roamed Santa Barbara high schools once a month for the past two years. And the school board voted Tuesday in a 3-2 split for the hounds to return for a third. The dogs, which cost the district $13,500 annually, search parking lots and classrooms. Perhaps impacting the results, students can choose to take their backpacks out of the classroom during the searches, an effort to uphold privacy rights — and to likely avoid lawsuits. Last year, the dogs did not find any drugs.
Drug offenses have mostly declined since they peaked during the 2009-2010 school year, when 258 students were caught, according to school staff. Last school year, 147 students were busted for using or selling drugs. The issue of drug dogs has for years split boardmembers who tend to vote unanimously on most issues. The general decline in drug offenses cannot necessarily be attributed to the dogs, argued Boardmember Monique Limón, who opposed renewing the contract. In fact, all types of infractions have decreased. And expulsion cases continue to be drug related, she added. Drug-sniffing dogs have increasingly shown up in public schools across the country, inviting a militant atmosphere on campuses, opponents contend.
But the program is a preventative one, say supporters, who credit the zero hits and decreased offenses in part to the random searches by the drug-sniffing dogs. Also, the district spends more than $200,000 on drug prevention programs, Boardmember Ed Heron said.