Police to up ante in search for drugs at NHS

Naugatuck police officer Kevin Zainc, right, leads police K-9 Pete to find drugs planted in the pocket of Dean of Students John Dellacamera, center, flanked by Board of Education member James Scully, left, and Mayor Robert Mezzo during a demonstration at the Board of Education meeting Dec. 12.

NAUGATUCK — Police K-9s will soon be sniffing through the halls of Naugatuck High School to search for illegal drugs.

“My goal is to send a clear message: ‘We don’t want drugs at Naugatuck High School.They have no business being here. We don’t want them in a safe, healthy environment,’” Naugatuck High School Principal Jan Saam told the Board of Education last week after informing members of the push to bring in the K-9 units.

Ideally, police won’t find any drugs, Saam said.

“Even if there’s a leftover scent on a jacket, that student’s on our radar, that student’s on notice,” Saam said.

Saam said Police Chief Christopher Edson approached her a month ago with the idea.

“In light of the recent events with so many students being caught either using, possessing or sale of drugs, it was very timely,” Saam said.

She said she cleared the plan with a parent group, students, faculty, and her advisory council, which is made up of business and community leaders. The policy allowing the school to search lockers was already on the books.

“All four groups were unanimous in wanting this,” Saam said.

Kevin Zainc, who is in charge of Naugatuck’s K-9 unit, said the school would go into lockdown while the dogs sweep through the building.

Police explained that about eight to 12 dogs from area jurisdictions would take about 20 minutes to search the lockers.

Naugatuck’s K-9, a black lab named Pete, demonstrated his abilities, sniffing volunteers until he found a small bag of contraband planted in Naugatuck High School Dean of Students John Dellacamera’s pocket. Pete promptly sat down and waited for his treat.

Pete can identify eight narcotics including marijuana, hashish, cocaine, crack, heroin, methamphetamines, steroids, and ecstasy, according to Zainc. He said some dogs can also sniff out oxycodone and Codeine, according to Zainc.

Unlike the demonstration at the Board of Education meeting, the dogs will not physically search students.

“At no point in time will the dogs ever interact with any of the students,” Zainc said.

If a dog smells something, police will mark the locker and notify school administrators. School officials will then open the locker, accompanied by the students. If administrators find contraband, police will seize it to be used as evidence or dispose of it.

“We’ll take it and make sure it is properly handled,” Zainc said.

The school will determine whether to handle the incident in house or turn the case over to the police.

“We are invited as a guest in the school here and absolutely respect that position,” said Deputy Chief Joshua Bernegger, noting that police and the school have a mutual goal to provide a drug-free environment for learning.

Bernegger said the search will most likely take place during fourth period, giving officers time to gather in the morning and discuss the operation.

According to Saam, there would be no point in searching lockers after school hours.

“Students wouldn’t leave it behind. It’s too valuable. … My hunch is that if they are there, they’re on their person or in their vehicles,” Saam said.

She said she also hoped to search the student parking lot, although that process is more exhausting for the dogs, police said. Police said they have the right to go into vehicles in the student parking lot, but would have to get a warrant to search vehicles in a borough lot.

“When they opt to park their car in the school’s parking lot, they are waiving those particular rights to an expectation of privacy,” Bernegger said.

Saam said the school will conduct the search a few times a year, starting with a search in the near future and another shortly thereafter.

She said she didn’t want students to think that once the search is done, they’ll be safe from further scrutiny for the year.

“I don’t want there to be a sense of complacency. … I want students to be on alert that we can bring these dogs in at any time,” Saam said.

Saam said she won’t announce exactly when the searches will happen ahead of time, but will send out a notice to parents to inform them of the policy.

Police also recommended preparing a pre-planned Code Ed message to inform parents what is going on during the lockdown so no one is misinformed or spreads rumors.

After the search is complete, Saam said police and administrators would have a debriefing to go over the results and see if anything could be done better in the future.

Dellacamera said he thought the drug search would be effective.

“This is a really good deterrent. The kids are already talking about it in the hallways,” he said.

One high school student doubted the dogs would find any drugs at the school.

“Personally, I don’t think its going to make any kind of difference at all,” said high school student Troy Bond.

He said people who use drugs are very cautious and wouldn’t risk being caught, especially now that they might be searched.

“I’ve talked to people personally who have said they’re not going to bring anything into school,” Bond said.

Bond felt the searches would be more effective if school administrators hadn’t announced their plans.

“It’s pretty much going to be a waste of our time,” Bond said.