West Michigan districts use random canine searches to find contraband

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – From alcohol stored inside plastic food containers and marijuana pipes fashioned out of produce, West Michigan school leaders routinely find students trying to hide contraband on district grounds.

And in some instances the discoveries are being made with the help of drug dogs searching buildings in a move that administrators say is equal parts prevention and awareness.

“Every school has drugs in it, this is one of our ways to control that,” Charlie Brown, Rockford Public Schools security director, said of canine searches at the district’s middle and high schools. “We believe it works.”

Rockford is among several West Michigan school systems that hire Interquest Detection Canines of Michigan Inc. to perform the inspections.

The dogs, which are trained to find drugs, alcohol, gun powder-based products, tobacco and medications, also are used locally in Grandville, Forest Hills, East Kentwood and Byron Center schools among 46 districts across the state. East Grand Rapids uses the city’s public safety department to conduct regular searches on its high school campus.

Records obtained by MLive and the Grand Rapids Press under the Freedom of Information Act show the findings by dogs at area schools are relatively low compared to overall student population, but educators believe the more vigilant they are, the better for students.

The public records request showed the discovery of more than 86 prohibited substances or items at the area schools that have used Interquest since 2011. Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana or drug paraphernalia were the most common finds, but dogs also alerted to fireworks and a toy cap gun among other items banned from school property.

The dogs have come up with 28 student code violations at the six Forest Hills high and middle schools, the most in the region. Canine searches at Grandville revealed 26 hits, Kentwood with 22, 10 at Byron Center and Rockford with two. East Grand Rapids searches found no substances or weapons.

There is no mandate for documenting details of what the dogs find and district record-keeping varies, making complete comparisons between districts difficult. The figures also don’t include items found by security staff or administrators during the year.

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