Just say no to drug dogs

We can all agree that we don’t want drugs in our schools. But how best to keep them out is another matter. This week, the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees voted to start funding the sporadic visits of drug-sniffing dogs to our schools as a way to keep our kids away from drugs.

A demonstration by a friendly Labrador retriever proved popular with some parents who witnessed the dog’s drug-ferreting act. The dog’s peaceful presence seems like a non-threatening way to get at the problem. As per agreement, for $18,000 a year the dog and its handlers will make unannounced visits to area high schools on “suspicion-less searches,” checking lockers, restrooms, random classrooms and the students’ belongings waiting inside.

But, we have to ask, what kind of message are we sending to our kids? Are they, as the Fourth Amendment instructs, “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures"? In this case, the searches are blanket searches, meaning there is no suspicion of any individual; instead all are subject. However, the Fourth Amendment says clearly that, if there is no individualized suspicion, there is no right to search. The 9th Circuit Court ruled in 1999, on a local case, Butte County v. Plumas Unified School District, that “[t]o be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a [seizure] must ordinarily be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.”

There must be a better way. As popular as the drug-sniffing approach seems—almost no one has stepped forth to protest, and even the most liberal of the trustees is going along (it’s an election year)—the Bill of Rights applies to kids, last time we checked. How would these same parents feel if their places of work were suddenly subjected to drug-sniffing dogs making random visits?

We live in an insecure era. Too many of us are willing to give up our rights because our government tells us that’s only way to protect ourselves. Where do we stop? Or is it already too late? As one letter-writer recently told the Los Angeles Times, which has endorsed the use of drug-sniffing dogs in L.A. schools, "… the experience of having their lockers checked periodically by inquisitive dogs will help prepare the kids for their futures as citizens of a police state."