Canine security check at Philip school
At 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, February 9, the Philip High School was put in a quiet lock-down while a police dog sniffed for illegal drugs. Lockers were scrutinized while students were kept in their classes. People wanting to come into the building were politely asked to return later.
At 9:45 a.m., the search was over. Nothing was found. Very few people were even really concerned, except for the search being the general conversation topic for the rest of the day. Highway Patrolman Slade Ross and his canine partner, Scout, were ready to move to other aspects of their job.
For schools, the canine security search is predictably routine, though always unpredictably timed. Schools and law enforcement agencies work together and plans are to search the Philip schools several more times this year. This search was with only one dog, while larger schools may require several dogs during one search. Coincidentally, the National Guard was presenting a drug/alcohol awareness seminar with the Philip eighth graders during this week.
“We are trying to promote activities to make students aware,” said Superintendent Dr. Julie Ertz. “We were pleased with the results. It’s always good to not find anything.” The student council is promoting drug awareness and helping students make good choices.
Patrolman Ross and his Belgian Malinois dog live in Philip and were glad that nothing was found. “The security checks are more a deterrent than anything else,” said Ross. “Hopefully, they make people think a little bit more before they bring drugs into the schools. I’m sure it does stop it some, but ....” Parking lot searches and book bag and jacket searches will occur sometime in the future.
An ex-Marine medic, Ross loves his law enforcement job. Ross and Scout could be kept busy all year just checking schools, but their duties also include supporting other agencies, helping with search warrants, with vehicles “sniffs,” and supporting other officers in general. Their territory covers from Nebraska to North Dakota, from Wasta to Vivian; “from border to border and about 110 miles wide.”
This is not Ross’s first dog. His first one, Oz, is still a sniffer at heart, but hip displacia forced him to retire to Ross’s in-law’s place. The Belgian Malinois breed is predominantly the number one dual purpose police dog. In police jargon, dual purpose being “sniffing” and “biting/tracking.” They work hard. Asked if the dogs get along well together in large searches, Ross grinned, “Not necessarily. Group pictures are fun.”
Concerned about the drug situation, Ross simply states, “Whatever you’ve heard, there are more drugs and more drug users out there than you think.” With only four canine handlers west of the river in South Dakota, there has been over two million dollars worth of illegal drugs seized, including over 2,000 lbs. of marijuana, over 60 kilos (132 lbs.) of cocaine, and 300 to 400 arrests.
There is an increasing number of dogs in use in law enforcement, even in South Dakota. A trained dog costs around $5,000. “About 25 paraphernalia tickets will pay for that,” said Ross. South Dakota and Nebraska shadow each other’s programs and work well together. Federal grants pay or help pay for dog training and certification costs.
With or without a canine partner, Ross’s job of law enforcement has its responsibilities. When it comes to students and people in general, Ross stated, “I seem to get along pretty well; no real troubles. I try to be as honest and as straight forward as I can.”