TRUCKEE, Calif. — The town’s police dog will soon become the newest tool in helping keep Truckee High School’s campus a drug-free zone.
Before this school year ends, Truckee Police Department’s black Labrador retriever Trax will conduct an unannounced search on school grounds, sniffing out controlled substances such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines.
“He’s a deterrent,” said Corine Harvey, executive director of student services for Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. “We don’t want to catch kids — that’s not our goal. We’re not trying to trap kids; we want kids to not bring drugs and alcohol to the campus.”
When Trax does his search, he will not sniff students or go into classrooms, but rather search hallways, lockers and vehicles parked on campus.
Truckee Police Chief Adam McGill said the hope is Trax doesn’t find anything.
“That would be a success,” he said. “Anything short of that, it’s a failure for us as a community. It would be a success to Trax in his mind; he found what he’s trained to look for, but we hope he doesn’t succeed that day.”
Anything found by Trax would be verified. If it is a confirmed illegal substance, an investigation would begin.
“It doesn’t automatically mean somebody will be criminally charged,” McGill said. “It could be the school handles it internally, or it could be they are arrested. It depends on the quantity and circumstances of what we found. Every case would be treated individually.”
‘ANOTHER TOOL IN THE TOOLBOX’
Using a drug-detection dog is not new within TTUSD.
For years, the district, in cooperation with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, has conducted searches at North Tahoe High, but such a search is new for Truckee High School.
Nothing specific is prompting the search, McGill said.
“It’s just another tool in the toolbox to make sure we’re providing a safe campus,” he said.
Before paying an on-duty visit, Trax will visit the school in a meet-and-greet capacity.
“We want to create the image that just because Trax is there doesn’t always equate to that’s a negative event,” McGill said. “There are positive experiences with him, too.”
After this school year, Trax will make more regular unannounced visits to the high school, said Rob Leri, TTUSD superintendent.
“We believe as many deterrents we can incorporate, we should, so Trax is another one of those,” he said.
In order to discourage youth alcohol and drug use, TTUSD also employs/supports the following:
AlcoholEDU, an interactive online alcohol prevention program as a part TTUSD high schools’ health classes.
Friday Night Live, which provides safe, sober Friday night events for teens such as paintball and going to the movies.
Project Sober Graduation.
Wellness centers in Truckee and North Tahoe high schools.
Peer groups such as Sources of Strength.
In elementary schools, alcohol and drugs aren’t directly discussed, but students are taught how to make good decisions when it comes to health and wellness, Harvey said. In middle schools, a character education curriculum is used along with assemblies that touch on the topic.
“Our hope is that we have students who are making good choices, healthy choices, and that they understand the risks,” Leri said.
Those risks include poor performance in school and priming the brain for addiction later in life, not including legal consequences, explained River Coyote, director of Tahoe Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence.
Results from the 2012 California Healthy Kids Survey revealed that a number of TTUSD students are using drugs and alcohol.
Ten percent of 233 seventh-graders polled across the district said they had used alcohol within the last 30 days, with 36 percent of 198 ninth-graders and 52 percent of 155 11th-graders answering the same.
In addition, 47 percent of 11th-graders reported that when they drink, they drink to get drunk, consuming five or more drinks at a time. Thirty percent of 11th-graders categorized themselves as weekly drinkers.
(Drinking) is at a crisis level,” Coyote said, considering Tahoe/Truckee numbers are much higher than the state average.
As for marijuana, 31 percent of 11th-graders and 21 percent of ninth-graders said they used the drug in the last 30 days.
“This is not something the schools can do alone,” Leri said. “We have to involve the parents and the broader community in this effort.”
For students who reported not drinking alcohol or using drugs in the past 30 days, the No. 1 reason why was not wanting to disappoint or lose their parents’ trust.
“Everybody’s a role model, but what you’re modeling can be positive or negative,” McGill said. “Role model doesn’t automatically equate to being a positive. Role modeling means you’re modeling.
“... Do you go out to dinner with your kids and have three, four or five drinks and then get behind the wheel of a car? They’re watching. Do you drink to excessiveness several nights a week? They’re watching.”
McGill also pointed to the community culture, where many local events and celebrations involve alcohol.
To help educate the community on this issue, several meetings and forums are scheduled throughout this month.
“It really does take a village to take on a challenge like this, and it’s great to see community, schools and parents coming together,” Harvey said.
More up-to-date figures on youth drinking and drug use will be collected in May when TTUSD fifth-, seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders can volunteer — and anonymously — take the California Healthy Kids Survey. Results should be available by mid-summer, Harvey said.
“We definitely feel we won’t be successful in lowering the drinking level, if we don’t all work together,” Coyote said. “... Everybody is a key to solving this problem. If we are going to make a difference, it will take time.”
“This is not something the schools can do alone. We have to involve the parents and the broader community in this effort.”