The Northport-East Northport Board of Education approved the use of Suffolk County Police narcotic detection dogs for drug sweeps of school lockers at Monday's BOE meeting. Trustee David Badanes voted against the program.
The sweeps would be requested by the district, then scheduled on a day agreed upon by the Suffolk County Police and the district. Non-targeted sweeps would be conducted on lockers for 40 minutes while students are in their classrooms. If the dog “indicates” to a locker, the locker would be searched, and a uniformed Second Precinct police officer would be responsible for any contraband seized. School officials would be required to provide the police with the name, date of birth, and address of the student, and the police could effect a summary arrest.
A canine sniff of property is not considered a search under the Fourth Amendment because it is a non-targeted and random sweep. The dogs can detect illegal narcotic substances such as marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, but cannot detect legal controlled substances like prescription pills.
In order to implement the program, Suffolk Police require the district to notify parents and students that the school owns all lockers and locks and that students have no expectation of privacy for the contents within. The district would not need specific consent from parents to conduct the sweeps.
Language in the high school handbook saying that reasonable suspicion is required before a locker search would need to be amended to implement the drug sweep program. “Whether or not you move in the direction of dogs, we need to take a look at this, particularly at the high school,” advised Board Counsel John Gross.
Providing the handbook is changed and parents are notified, the sweeps are legally permissible, advised Gross, but could open the board to potential lawsuits. “We're talking about trial, depositions...it would be an expensive proposition” he said, adding that, in certain situations, insurance may not cover monetary damages and fees.
Use of drug sniffing dogs is not prevalent in New York, said Gross, due to a dearth of case law on its constitutionality. “Drug sniffing dog utilization is more prevalent in the south and west because those circuit courts tend to be more conservative,” he said.
Trustee Joe Sabia, who first proposed the program to the Board last summer, said that drug abuse among students is a more pressing concern than any potential law suit. “Anything that we can do as a community to stop drug abuse is a feather in our hat,” he said.
Trustee Badanes objected that the program is flawed. In a Nov. 5 letter to the board he wrote that random drug sweeps are a violation of a students privacy, liberty, and constitutional rights, would open the district up to law suits, and are not proven to be an effective deterrent. His letter is attached as a PDF.
Earlier this year, the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force formed a subcommittee to evaluate the proposal and present their findings to the board. Their decision was split.
Anthony Ferrandino, co-chair of the Task Force and Northport High School drug and alcohol counselor, said he welcomes the program and sees it as "another layer of intervention." Task Force member Rob Ingraham said he opposes the program because there is no evidence of its efficacy in preventing drug possession or abuse, it will open the school to law suits, and may errode the relationship of trust between students and teacher.
One parent who spoke at the board said she is overwhelmingly in favor of the sweeps and said any measure taken to prevent drug abuse among students is justified. High School Principal Irene McLaughlin said she thinks it will serve as an effective deterrent on school property.
Board Vice President Jennifer Thompson said she's glad that the board has taken time to mull the proposal. “I feel more comfortable moving forward...there are an overwhelming number of students that we have gone to funerals for," she said.
In July 2011, the Drug and Alcohol Task Force presented the 2010-2011 NYS Youth Development Survey to Board members. Among the findings: parental attitudes towards alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs are above state norms in grades 9-12. A PDF of the full report is attached to this article.