Our View: Drug dogs can be effective tools


Editorial Board, February 2009 through May 2009

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Paul Hughes, community representative
  • Gail Smith, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— Allowing a drug-sniffing dog to check student lockers and vehicles at Steamboat Springs High School is a reasonable and potentially effective method for reducing the presence of narcotics on school grounds.

It's unfortunate such a step is even necessary, but the level of drug use among our high school and middle school students appears to warrant it. Just past the halfway mark of the 2008-09 school year, the district already has seen twice as many students recommended for expulsion because of drug- or alcohol-related violations than it did during the 2007-08 school year. At the high school, 12 students have faced expulsion for drugs or alcohol. About half that many are facing expulsion at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Anonymous student surveys conducted in recent years also point to a substantial drug problem. Survey results have revealed that as many as half of all high school students have smoked marijuana, and about 20 percent have experimented with harder drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

"We do have a problem," Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said. "We're not going to tolerate it."

It would be naÃive to think a K-9 unit sniffing school lockers and vehicles parked in the school parking lot will end drug use among our teens. But what it will do is help ensure a safe, drug-free environment within the walls of our high school - and that's something we believe all students should be provided, particularly those who choose a drug-free lifestyle.

Some will argue that drug-sniffing dogs in our schools violate the Fourth Amendment and students' right to privacy and that students shouldn't be subjected to unreasonable or unwarranted searches. However, the courts have ruled that using a trained drug-sniffing dog to indiscriminately search the outside of student lockers and vehicles doesn't constitute an illegal search, nor does it violate their right to privacy. Court rulings have taken an opposite stance when dogs are brought into contact with students for search purposes.

School officials have made clear that students themselves will not be searched or brought in contact with the drug dogs. Instead, the dog will be walked through school hallways while students are kept in classrooms.

Cunningham hopes the searches turn up no drugs but that they send a clear message to students.

"I just want to send the message that alcohol and drugs are not to be on campus," Cunningham said. "They're not conducive to a safe learning environment."

Communities expect their schools to be drug-free zones, and Steamboat Springs should be no different. Bringing a drug-sniffing dog on the high school campus won't keep teens from using illicit drugs, but it might help keep those drugs off school grounds. That's a goal worth supporting.


Scott Wedel 8 years, 2 months ago

Is the lesson not to use drugs or how to play the game of using drugs without being caught?

Do the kids learn to keep drugs out of their cars or learn to park where the dogs don't search?

Do they learn not to use drug or how to keep their locker drug free?

When I was in high school we had locker inspections and the net result was beating the system by just keeping everything in their backpack and never using their locker.

If drugs are so common at school that there is peer pressure to use while at school then this is probably good. If this is mostly for show then it is probably a bad idea.


aichempty 8 years, 2 months ago

I'll chip in for an extra hour or two of the cost if they'll take that doggy down to the Justice Center and sniff around the parking lot while court is in session.


playa46 8 years, 2 months ago

So the students will have to find a way to get high outside of school. Is that really hard for them? Sorry, but suspicion less searches are not constitutional, it is an invasion of privacy. However, the law requires that this is legal, go ahead and destroy someones locker and privacy, I am sure you will have a fun time doing it!!


Wayne Eller 8 years, 2 months ago

Do you you reduce your speed when you see a patrol car beside the road? Sure you do. If someone flashes their lights to warn you of a trooper ahead, do you slow down? Sure you do. If you know that a drug dog is possibly going to be at school unanounced do you have contraband at school. Of course not. Let the police and the school do their job and "we the people" and the parents and community do the rest. Sometimes the thought of being caught or busted is a deterant. Whatever works is worth doing especially if it only saves one child. An invasion of privacy---I think not. It will not be a suspicion less search. The search will only be based on reasonable suspicion--a certified dog-- that can escalate to probable cause and then the search is constitutional.


JLM 8 years, 2 months ago

The legal implications are not even a close call. The Fourth Amendment rights of a citizen prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure are rights which are focused on his home and the "curtilage" (the open area surrounding a home or dwelling, like the yard).

The rights of a citizen to privacy in his personal vehicle are clearly inferior to the rights of privacy in his home. The "in plain sight" doctrine being the most frequent applicable doctrine.

No student is entitled to any right of privacy in a locker lent to him by the school for the temporary purpose of storing his books while school is in session. This locker is neither the hearth nor home contemplated by the Fourth Amendment.

While I personally am not wild about the idea of drug sniffing dogs as a practice, this is where we have gotten to. Drugs are pervasive.

Equally important is the issue of whether the "evidence" obtained is admissible in a legal or disciplinary proceeding. Were a search found to be unlawful, then the fruits of that search are inadmissible. The drugs are simply taken as contraband.

It wil be interesting to see what really happens.


playa46 8 years, 2 months ago


Kids can be stupid, but not THAT stupid. What if the cop is not around? You can speed all you want. I don't want someone in my locker because they feel it posesses something illegal. Also, drugs are not the only way to get high, I am sure you know that.


localboy17 8 years, 2 months ago

It doesn't matter what any amendments say, or what people think is given privacy. If the car is parked on the school grounds, or the child and their backpack, or the locker are on school grounds, the right is given to the principle and the administration to "do everything they need to keep school a safe and educational atmosphere. Now you know that they are going to abuse this power, but to a point it is fine. Don't bring drugs to school, do have drugs in your car if you park on campus. Other than that it is the parents job to keep drugs away from their children, but the searches are within every right that the administration has.


howard_roark 8 years, 2 months ago

I think people would be surprised to know how many students use marijuana exclusively at or near school. The majority of teenagers do not possess marijuana or paraphernalia. These students do however smoke with friends during lunch, open hours and after school (often for reasons of social status).


freerider 8 years, 2 months ago

Why don't we get some barbed wire and machine gun nest's as well ...maybe some swastika's to go around the school would be a good idea too ...then make all the kids salute the new commendant...this is just a reflection of today's society ...maybe we should try giving the kids a better alternative than drugs...so when all you growups out there are sitting around with your cocktails and prosac and viagra trying to figure out what to do about the drug problem ...maybe you outta go look in the mirror first...but that would require you to turn off your T.V.


Scott Berry 8 years, 2 months ago

Localboy, congratulations! It is nice to hear a young adult get it right! When drugs have been openly sold in the commons for years, it is about time the district did something to move the blatant marketing somewhere other than the school. Using dogs not only is economical but effective. In fact, a placebo dog would be just as effective on an interim basis. Bravo to this whole concept!


aichempty 8 years, 2 months ago

A bunch of spoiled little snots want to smoke pot, and complain about anybody who wants to stop them. That's the whole issue.

The rights of kids who don't want to succumb to social pressure to smoke pot are being infringed through criminal coercion on public property. Their right to the pursuit of happiness is at stake. Using a criterion of breaking the law and thwarting authority to grant acceptance to an unwilling kid in order to belong to a social circle is certainly not an activity protected by the United States Constitution.

How about suspension for a semester, performing public service six hours a day (picking up trash along the roads), and requiring them to attend summer school to make up the lost classroom time. Punishment that doesn't bite at the basic comfort and freedom enjoyed by the perpetrator will not work.


localboy17 8 years, 2 months ago

I made a spelling error though when I said, "do have drugs in your car when you park on campus." I meant to say don't obviously. At school its the principle's job to do whatever he can to keep school safe, drug and alcohol, and tobacco free. At home or anywhere else, it's the parents job. And freerider makes no point at all. A "reflection of today's society" ??? School is no prison, and high school principles are no hitler. Taulman (?spelling?) is a great guy, I am a graduate and I know that for a fact. Bringing drug dogs to school is not a reflection of today's society. Parents who just want to believe that their kids are doing no wrong, letting them get away with whatever they want, and covering up for them when they get caught with or doing something is not right. Doing that makes people that are of no use to society at all, and suck the life out of our resources. It is NOT too much to ask that kids DON'T bring drugs to school, in their car, locker, or backpack. That should not be a problem. If you have a problem staying away from drugs from 8-3 for 5 days a week, then you should check yourself into a program.


Publius 8 years, 2 months ago

I fear the Steamboat Pilot might be too glib in announcing what the Fourth Amendment permits with respect to student searches, and thus in convincing the Steamboat public that the Steamboat School Board's drug-sniffing dog scheme may be accomplished without risk of significant litigation cost in defending the program.

Put simply, it is irrelevant, as the Pilot writes, that "the courts have ruled that using a trained drug-sniffing dog to indiscriminately search the outside of student lockers and vehicles doesn't constitute an illegal search." The question is "which courts?" While courts in other circuits may have so held, the question appears to remain open in the Tenth Circuit, making the program a fertile source for any civil rights attorney to litigate. Moreover, it is simply untrue that "courts" have held one type of search to be constitutional, and another type to unconstitutional. The constitutionality of student searches relies upon a fact-specific balancing of three factors, one of which is the degree of need for drug searches in the community at issue. In other words, this could easily be a case that could be litigated at great expense through multiple levels of appellate review because the constitutional rights at question are simply indeterminate.

Finally, the Fourth Amendment analysis does not resolve the question because the Colorado Constitution itself provides protections against unreasonable searches, which has led the ACLU to litigate a nearly identical case in various states and to prevail.

In short, I think any school board willing to base policy decisions on the legal advice of the Steamboat Pilot might be in for an unpleasant surprise when the right civil rights attorneys decide to handle this case pro bono.

Finally, didn't some famous American recently say, "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals"? Are we so quick to forget?


playa46 8 years, 1 month ago

Or we can just scratch the name United off the map, as well as the constitution and call ourselves the Conformist States of America where every little person gets a fine education and kids follow mom's rules, dad goes to work and mom works hard to keep kids away from the evil, bad bad bad world of real life.

Let's take a trip back to the 50's...


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