Dogs to sniff out drugs in schools

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The Independent Online

Police are using dogs in classrooms across the North-east to try to catch children suspected by their headteachers of dealing in hard drugs.

Police are using dogs in classrooms across the North-east to try to catch children suspected by their headteachers of dealing in hard drugs.

Heads in at least three schools in the Northumbria Police region have called in officers after suspecting that amphetamines, cannabis and even heroin are being peddled. The dangers of schoolyard drug-pushing were highlighted in Sunderland earlier this year when four boys were arrested outside the city's Farringdon School in a police campaign against drug-pushing. Detectives seized cannabis after four weeks of surveillance.

Northumbria Police said dogs had searched classrooms, corridors and lockers where drugs might be hidden at schools in Sunderland, Ashington and South Tyneside. No evidence of drug-taking was found. "We are not naive enough to think that drugs are not being used by children in schools," said Inspector Terry Davison of Sunderland police's dog section. "Where we have the support of the school, we will use whatever means we can to target drug dealers."

Sunderland health authority said its surveys of secondary schools showed 40 per cent of pupils aged 13 to 15 had tried illegal substances. Those aged 10 to 12 started sniffing glue, then moved to cannabis at 14 to 16, then eventually to ecstasy and amphetamines.

Dr Dave Tregoning, public health medicine consultant at the health authority, said: "There's a youth culture which is receptive to drugs. We don't have as good a feel on young people as we should have. There will be an illegal drugs trade in schools, though I don't believe the school users are great consumers. These kids don't have a great amount of disposable income [to buy drugs]."

Police in Staffordshire were criticised by the National Association of Head Teachers last year when dogs were used in checks on schools as part of the force's Operation Tandem.

After bags and coats belonging to pupils aged 15 and 16 were checked without warning, the union said headteachers must be informed in advance. "The idea of the safe school environment being invaded by police is very worrying," a union spokesman said.

Educationists in Sunderland agree that the use of dogs - more commonly associated with many American schools, where security guards employ metal detectors to search pupils for drugs, knives and firearms - did serve a purpose in "limited circumstances".

Northumbria Police said its raids had been at the request of headteachers. "We will send the dogs in only where we have strong evidence that drugs are present," Insp Davison said.

Margaret Ferrie, an anti-drugs adviser with Sunderland education authority, said she cautiously supported the tactic, although she preferred to tryto influence children through the authority's drug prevention programmes.

Last year, in Stockport, Greater Manchester, a headteacher recruited his own dog handler and caught two 15-year-old pupils with cannabis.