Posted 4/21/10 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
Watford City High School went into a lockdown last Tuesday morning as law enforcement officers from the Watford City Police Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Northwest Narcotics Task Force, assisted by six K9 units, made a surprise drug search of the school.
“The district definitely wanted to get back into K9 searches of the school for drugs,” stated Steve Holen, district superintendent following the search. “The district had new policies in place governing how drug searches would be conducted and it was time to do a search.”
According to Slade Herfindahl, Watford City Police chief, who coordinated with Holen to assemble the search team, the actual search was flawless.
“The dogs were in and out of the school in 22 minutes, and the total time that law enforcement officers were in the school was one hour and 12 minutes,” stated Herfindahl.
According to Herfindahl, the dogs searched approximately 300 lockers, as well as the hallways, locker rooms, the high school shop, the Commons Area and the high school parking lot. During the search, the dogs alerted on 11 lockers within the school and on one vehicle in the parking lot.
During follow-up searches, no narcotics were found by members of the Northwest Narcotics Task Force.
“The alerts could have been nothing more than the dogs detected the residual odor of narcotics on clothing, backpacks or from the vehicle,” stated Herfindahl.
Herfindahl is confident that all of the alerts were genuine because of the extensive training of the K9 units.
“These K9 units are trained to search out drugs exclusively,” states Herfindahl. “They don’t care about food or candy. They are keyed in on finding just one thing, and that’s drugs. That’s their job.”
According to Herfindahl, once a dog alerted on either a locker in the school or a vehicle in the parking lot a second dog was brought in to see if it would also alert.
“In every instance, the same locker or vehicle was alerted on by both dogs,” stated Herfindahl. “That’s just how good these animals are.”
At that time the locker was tagged for inspection by agents of the Northwest Narcotics Task Force.
“From the standpoint of law, because of the training of K9 units, if a dog alerts on something, we can obtain a search warrant,” stated Herfindahl.
The search, which Holen and Herfindahl deemed a success, will be just the first of more in the future as part of the district’s and the police department’s efforts to keep Watford City High School drug free.
“Chief Herfindahl and I started discussing having the search back in January,” stated Holen. “The Watford City Police Department did an excellent job of bringing together all of the different law enforcement agencies necessary to do the search and to meet our search policies.”
While Holen acknowledges that the district cannot control what students choose to do when they are not in school, the district is going to do everything that it can to control what happens within the school.
“We were very pleased with how the entire search process went,” stated Holen. “This was a huge step forward for us and we want to make it a regular event.”
According to Holen the last time that the district had a surprise drug search was three years ago, and did not go the way the district had hoped.
“It was business as usual for the teachers and students during Tuesday’s search,” stated Holen. “While no one was permitted to leave the classrooms during the search, there was no disruption to any of our classes.”
Holen credits the success of this search to good communication with the Watford City Police Department.
“Just because nothing was found doesn’t make the search a bad search,” stated Holen. “We want our school to be drug free and we intend to use future searches to keep it drug free.”