Police dogs and officers visited Tooele High School last week during a surprise sniff for drugs and firearms and found evidence of drugs, explosives and/or firearms on school property.
The search took place on Wednesday, March 15 from 9:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
School resource officers from the Tooele City Police Department and Tooele School District officials have a contract which talks about the benefits that canine searches can bring to schools, according to Cpl. Colbey Bentley, public information officer at the Tooele Police Department.
During a conversation one day recently, Tooele School District officials, along with Tooele City Police officers mutually decided that it was time to conduct a canine search in the school, which is permitted by the contract.
“It has been a few years since we’ve done this but it was something that we had the ability to do,” Bentley said. “Nothing tipped us off or anything like that. It was just simply us deciding to make sure the campus was safe.”
Utah Highway Patrol officers and six of their narcotic, and gun and explosive sniffing dogs, along with Tooele City officers participated in the canine search, which is referred to as an “open air sniff.”
“The dogs were sniffing for the presence of firearms and other explosives, and drugs that may cause a safety issue for the school,” Bentley said.
During the canine search, the dogs sniffed lockers, common areas, and vehicles outside the school. If the dogs smell something, they respond vocally, strain towards digging, or paw at the spot the contraband is located.
If a dog indicates that there are drugs or firearms in a vehicle, police will contact the owner of the car or their parents who are over 18. They then ask for consent to search the vehicle. If no consent is given, police can apply for a search warrant which usually takes less than an hour to be approved or denied.
During the time police are waiting for the warrant, the owner of the vehicle isn’t allowed to move the vehicle or touch anything inside.
If the dogs indicate that there are drugs or firearms found inside of a locker, police have to ask school administration if they can open the locker and search it, according to Bentley. Whether the locker is searched or not is completely up to school administration, and school administration may either search it themselves or ask officers to do it.
During the process, no students or their backpacks were sniffed, but dogs indicated on several cars and lockers, meaning there were drugs, explosives, or firearms in the school and on the property, according to Bentley.
Bentley couldn’t provide any more information related to what was found during the search.
“We don’t want any firearms or drugs on school property,” Bentley said. “This is a big deterrent to kids when they know that the officers have drug sniffing and firearm sniffing dogs. They know that there is a good chance if they bring something to school, they will be caught … Deterring is the number one thing we can do. We would rather deter them from bringing it to school, rather than finding it on school property.”
There is no limit to how many times during a school year a canine sniff can be conducted. The search can also be conducted at any high school or junior high in the district at any time, Bentley said.