Duo Works To Keep District Drug-Free

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When Officer Les Barr volunteered for the student resource officer position left vacant by outgoing officer Steve Montgomery, Payson High School Principal Roy Sandoval welcomed Barr and his partner with open arms.

"We would love to have you," Sandoval said.

Sandoval said Barr's canine partner, Kodiak, is simply part of the law-enforcement package -- working to ensure Payson High School remains a drug-free zone.

Teens and their parents were warned at registration that Payson High School maintains a drug-free zone, and that all cars on campus are subject to random searches for the detection of pot, pills and other controlled substances.

"We don't put Kodiak in alert mode any more than we tell an officer to pull his night stick out," Sandoval said. "No one is purporting that (the use of dogs) is the best way or the only way."

Drug-free school zones are common in the United States, and the Payson Unified School District is no exception.

PUSD and PHS want to impress upon everyone in the community that they are, "...seriously dedicated to establishing an environment in which students take responsibility for their actions and adhere openly to the ideal that our school is and shall remain a ‘drug-free zone.'"

"Drug-free school zones" are areas in and around public schools that provide students with a safe haven where they can learn, play and grow without the influence of drugs and those who use drugs.

Additionally, PHS has always had a car-search policy. It's highlighted in the high school's handbook on page one:

"On a random schedule, a canine trained in the detection of illegal substances will visit PHS and canvas the area to ensure there are no illegal substances on the premises. This activity will cover the entire PHS campus, inclusive of all buildings and cars in the parking areas."

The American Civil Liberties Union questions the constitutionality of drug-dog searches at PHS, calling them "a matter of concern."

But Commander Don Engler of Payson Police Department said poking around in students' cars and busting them for dope isn't Kodiak's job.

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Officer Les Barr and his canine partner, Kodiak, work to ensure Payson High School remains a drug-free zone.

"Our big purpose in assigning Officer Barr wasn't the use of the canine, it was using him as the school resource officer."

Engler said that Kodiak would only be used as a resource if the school district agreed a need existed.

"We would have to be within all the laws and guidelines of the state of Arizona and the federal guidelines as far as searching goes as well," Engler said.

Anjuli Verma, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law Reform Project said the school's decision to choose Barr and Kodiak as resource officers baffled her.

"The ACLU has a lot of litigation pending around drug dogs," Verma said. "A dog's ability to accurately identify the presence of drugs depends greatly on the specific situation at hand and the dog's and the handler's experience and training. Their reliability has been greatly challenged and successfully challenged."

She said instead of spending their limited time in the school's parking lot peeking in cars, they should be in the classroom teaching students about drugs.

"We believe that drug dogs don't really help children understand the risks associated with drug use and that role models, like teachers, mentors and parents do," said Verma.

Sandoval said PUSD and the community it serves has many educational programs that address the dangers and ramifications of illicit drug use, and he added Kodiak's presence isn't about creating a police state at the high school.

Sandoval said a "random search" is permissible on the outside of cars and lockers, and Kodiak's training will be used for specific circumstances that are "well documented" and reveal "reasonable suspicion."

For instance, reasonable suspicion could be a conversation overheard between students about "so-and-so" selling cocaine on campus.

Students caught violating PUSD's drug policy face a variety of consequences: warnings, probation, suspension or expulsion, even civil or criminal prosecution.

Payson High School's handbook is handed out each year to students and their parents.

School resource officer responsibilities include spending 90 hours per semester giving law-related education in the classroom.

Barr's salary for his nine-to 11-month tenure is paid for by a grant that includes some money for staff development and supplies.

As a parent of three teenagers, Sandoval said he is very thankful for PUSD's zero-tolerance drug policy because he knows that every effort is being made to keep drugs away from his children and the 2,750 others enrolled in the school district. As an employee, he appreciates the resource officer's presence to keep the workplace safe.

Drug-Free Schools Annual Report

Payson High School

2004-05

Distribution of illegal drugs 1

Possession or use of illegal drugs 5

Possession/use of alcohol 2

Possession/use of tobacco 22

Student enrollment 825

2003-04

Distribution of illegal drugs 0

Possession or use of illegal drugs 2

Possession/use of alcohol 5

Possession/use of tobacco 19

Student enrollment 850

2002-03

Distribution of illegal drugs 1

Possession or use of illegal drugs 9

Possession/use of alcohol 5

Possession/use of tobacco 0

Student enrollment 919

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