Monday, April 25, 2005

Gibraltar experts evaluate School Sniffer Dog Scheme

Drug Strategy Co-ordinator John Montegriffo has confirmed that he and RGP (Royal Gibraltar Police) drug enforcement specialists are evaluating a programme in Britain in which sniffer dogs can be used to discourage the circulation of drugs at schools.

Although the idea is still only at an exploratory level and would have to be considered at political level Mr Montegriffo told the Chronicle that the idea had been raised at a conference in Kent and he feels it could be worth considering if it is effective. But its aim is deterrence rather than detection.

Last week the debate became public in Britain when an expert on crime in the community called for all schools to consider using sniffer dogs to stamp out drugs.

The call from Professor Allyson MacVean of the John Grieve Centre for Policing and Community Safety, followed a study of a groundbreaking pilot scheme using sniffer dogs in schools which won backing from staff, parents and pupils.

Prof MacVean said that she hoped to see the initiative taken up in schools across the country following the experiment at six schools in Buckinghamshire. A total of 5,500 pupils from schools in the county, chosen to represent a cross section of single sex, mixed, grammar and secondary modern schools, were exposed to the scheme.
The initiative involved both out of hours searches of the premises by sniffer dogs and visits to the schools by dogs which were able to approach individual pupils.

Thames Valley Police and the local education authority, Buckinghamshire County Council, confirmed that no drugs had been found in any of the schools involved in the pilot scheme, but the use of dogs highlighted potential concerns with a "small number" of pupils who were referred to support services rather than face disciplinary procedures.

A report, edited by Prof MacVean, highlighted problems with the processes used, including the possibility that children could have been using mobile phones to warn their friends when the dogs were on their way.

The organisers, which included the county council, the police and GIS - the firm which provided the dogs hailed the scheme as a success, emphasising that it had been principally about deterrence rather than detection.

The experiment, carried out in the 2003 to 2004 academic year, involved dogs visiting each of the six schools four times: once out of hours, once to allow the pupils a chance to meet the dogs and hear about the scheme and two further visits by the dogs and their handlers for searches.

Organisers chose Labradors, rather than potentially more frightening breeds, for any visits when dogs would approach pupils individually.

The dogs are trained in such a way that pupils would not necessarily know that something had been detected on their person and staff were always available on hand to provide extra support.

The results from Prof MacVean’s study found backing for the scheme from 82% of pupils who returned questionnaires and 89% of parents.

Prof MacVean said:

"I think I would like to see it implemented in all schools, I think it would be part of the PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) and drugs education that they are doing now."

But she added that any attempt to introduce dogs into primary schools would have to be treated with caution.

She also emphasised that the success of the scheme relied on the bond established between the dogs and the pupils.

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