After the long holiday weekend, Payson High School students returned to school Monday and were greeted with an unexpected police search.
Working in conjunction with three other agencies and school officials, the Payson Police Department used five drug-sniffing dogs to search every classroom at the school looking for drugs and tobacco.
After the hour-long search, they charged three students. All are minors.
Charges range from possession of tobacco to drug paraphernalia and marijuana.
The Payson Unified School District requested the search, said Payson Police Chief Don Engler.
The posse showed up around 10:30 a.m. and directed students and staff to “shelter in place,” in their classrooms.
Handler and dog teams then worked from room to room, asking students to step outside and wait while they searched the room. If a dog alerted to a backpack, the student was asked to remove everything for further inspection. In some instances, no paraphernalia was found. The dogs didn’t search the students themselves to make sure they didn’t frighten or injure the students. Vehicles were not searched.
The sweep wrapped up around 12:15 p.m., running late into lunch.
There was no indication going into it that particular students were using or selling drugs, he said.
This is first time the PPD has conducted a search at the high school like this in many years.
Payson Unified School District Superintendent Greg Wyman said the search was initiated to ensure that the campus is safe and drug free.
“The district maintains a zero tolerance on our campuses for drugs, alcohol and tobacco. This zero tolerance includes imitation drugs as well as e-cigarettes and vaping,” he wrote in a letter to parents. “Any students caught violating these policies (including as a part of today’s event) face disciplinary action by the school and law enforcement.”
Police found one student with a vape pen containing marijuana, another with a vape pen containing tobacco and a third with a wrapper that had marijuana residue on it, Engler said.
Engler said the use of vape pens or e-cigarettes has become more prevalent among teens in Payson and they hope demonstrations like this deter students from using.
Nationally, teens are more likely to use e-cigarettes than cigarettes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Most teens say their e-cigarette contains just flavoring, but manufactures are not required to report the ingredients in e-cigs, so users do not know what they actually contain.
The PPD will refer the three students charged Monday to juvenile probation.
Besides the PPD, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Gila County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Forest Service participated in the search Monday.