PENDLETON - Pendleton Police conducted a surprise search using drug-sniffing dogs at the high school and middle school Monday, focusing on cars and lockers.
Five high school students were issued citations, including one for possession of a firearm. No citations were issued at the middle school.
The search was done in cooperation with Pendleton High School and Sunridge Middle School officials, and the assistance of Tribal Police.
"This is something they (school officials) have been wanting us to do," said Pendleton police Lt. Mark Swanson of the search at the high school. "Drugs, specifically in schools, have always been a problem."
With the help of the sensitive noses of Devo, the K-9 dog from Pendleton police handled by Officer Keith Byrd, and Val, the K-9 from Tribal Police handled by Officer Robert Guerrero, police were able to locate marijuana pipes and residue.
When a substance was found in a vehicle in the high school parking lot, school officials checked parking permits to identify the vehicle's owner and then called the student out of class. Police then explained what they were doing and asked the student if there were any controlled substances or paraphernalia in the vehicle and then had the student unlock the vehicle.
"Some of the kids came out with sort of a panicked look, but others were smiling or joking around," Swanson said. "Everyone was pretty cooperative."
One student came clean that he had a handgun in his vehicle, Swanson said. The student was not only underage and therefore should not have had possession of the gun, but having it on school property is also against the law. Ammunition was also found.
"Schools will look at it more seriously with the firearm possession," Swanson said.
That student received a citation for unlawful possession of a firearm. Three other students were cited for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana within less than 1,000 feet of a school - a Class A misdemeanor - and one of those students also received a minor in possession (MIP) of alcohol citation. One other PHS student received an MIP for having alcohol "spirits" in his vehicle.
Not only will these five students face the citation issued by police, they also face disciplinary action by the school.
At PHS, police and dogs searched not only the parking lot but also gym locker rooms and student lockers. Lockers were searched at Sunridge Middle School.
At PHS, 150 vehicles were inspected by the dogs, which pinpointed 19. Fourteen of those vehicles were valid alerts, while the other five were unverified, Swanson said.
"Sometimes there'd be a sweatshirt or something in the car left by the kid's friend that may have some residue on it," Swanson said. "In those cases it's hard to verify where it came from, so that's why certain ones weren't verified."
The dogs sounded the alarm at four lockers at PHS, and one was verified to have a controlled substance in it. At Sunridge Middle School, the dogs had 13 hits out of about 600 lockers scanned Swanson said, with just two of those lockers verified.
"Even though we didn't find any controlled substances or contraband, the two we did have the dogs alert on were ones where we found stuff in during an incident there last week," Swanson noted.
"This was one of the highest years that we've had for incidence use," Sunridge principal Dennis O'Hara said. "I don't know why, but Chief (Stuart) Roberts (of Pendleton Police) said it's been like that all over town this year, and he told me he's not sure why either."
O'Hara noted there have been 21 incidents involving drugs at Sunridge this year, some of involving repeat offenders.
The searches should not have come as a complete surprise to students, Swanson said, because the schools alert students at the beginning of the year that searches can be done on school property at any time, particularly if officials have reason to believe drugs may be in a locker, for example.
"I have the police do this primarily as a deterrent," O'Hara said.
While this was the first time police have conducted such a search this school year, it is not the first time ever. Swanson said a search was performed last year at PHS. O'Hara said Monday's search was the second this year.
Students at PHS had varying reactions this morning to the search, and most had concerns about privacy.
"I sort of think it was a privacy issue," said junior Sabrina Blue, who did not have her car at school Monday. "It would have made me mad if I had my car in the parking lot and had it torn through."
"I think it was a waste of time," added senior Sarah Mitchell.
Pulling students out of class when the dogs made an alert on a locker or car embarrassed many students, said junior Sopharry Do.
"They (other students) knew what you were being pulled out for," Do said. "Everybody sort of knew what was going on by after second period."
But not all students felt the search was a bad idea.
"Personally, I think it was a good thing," said junior Travis Ward. "Kids need to be off drugs and focusing on getting a good education and their future. If you supply money to the dealers, you're possibly supporting terrorism in the long run."
Ward's classmate, sophomore Levi Warne, had a similar opinion.
"Drugs and alcohol are bad for your education because it makes you do dumb things and kills off brain cells," Warne said.
Swanson said the department only performs drug searches at Pendleton schools and not in other districts.
"We've had numerous requests from Milton-Freewater School District and Athena-Weston schools to do this, but our policy is that if you have specific information that a certain kid has drugs at school, then we'll go out," Swanson said. "If we were to say yes to one district outside ours, then we can't say no to others because that wouldn't be fair. It's mostly a manpower issue."