Brad Evans was present at a drug awareness program last week at Houston Middle School. When the question was posed if the eighth-grade students believed they could get drugs if they wanted them, half the hands in the room went up.
“We were very surprised that many students said they could purchase drugs at the school from other students,” Evans said. “Drugs are available to them.”
Evans, an officer with the Houston Police Department, and his colleagues are concerned about the increased drug use in the community. And they have a plan to combat it.
The department received the city council’s approval Monday night to begin fundraising to purchase a K-9 dog. The animal would only be used for narcotics detection and raising awareness in the school district.
Evans said the addition is necessary for Houston police. He said the department has in less than five months of 2013 already surpassed the total number of drug cases from 2012. Not to mention the alarming response he witnessed of the availability of narcotics in the school system.
“Drugs in this area are on the rise,” he said. “Our goal is to get drugs out of our community. We want to use this dog as a deterrent and aid in doing that.”
Evans, who was selected by Chief Jim McNiell to handle the dog based on his previous drug work, said the animal would be trained at a facility. He would then spend considerable time working with the dog and receiving certification. He said partnering with a trained dog will be less expensive and less time consuming that beginning with one that was untrained.
The dog –– Evans guessed it would be around 18-24 months old and a Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois –– will be trained in narcotics only. It will not track suspects or bite.
“It will be a friendly dog,” McNiell said. “That’s why we aren’t teaching it bite work. We want the kids to be able to socialize with and pet the dog.”
Evans said he hopes to deter drugs in the school district by conducting quarterly searches of the campus. They would not be announced. On the roads, the dog would give him access to vehicles he currently cannot search.
“If we’ve stopped people who we suspect of having narcotics in the vehicle but there is no odor or other directive to give us probable cause to search their vehicle without permission, a dog will eliminate that scenario,” he said. “If the dog hits on the vehicle, we can search it.”
Along with rising drug use in Houston, McNiell said he is concerned about the amount of narcotics trafficking through the area. Based on increased work by law enforcement on interstates 55 and 44 and maps authorities have seized, he said U.S. 63 is becoming an alternative route for criminals moving drugs from the southern part of the country.
“U.S. 63 is a north-south highway through our state and doesn’t have a history of drug detection work,” McNiell said. “We might be able to intercept a load traveling through our community.”
With the city council’s blessing, Houston police are beginning to gather support to obtain the drug dog. They have secured a $1,000 charitable grant through Intercounty Electric. Walmart has agreed to provide food for the dog, and Dr. Tom Dunn will volunteer his time for maintenance and care of the animal.
Evans, who described the endeavor as a “community project,” said the department will send letters to local businesses asking for financial assistance. He also encouraged private citizens to consider making a tax-deductible donation. In the next few months, the department will host a 5K run to raise more funds.
The $10,000 price tag to secure the K-9 dog for the community is hefty, but McNiell believes the investment is well worth it.
“We want to send a strong message that drugs won’t be tolerated here,” he said.
To make a tax-deductible donation to the K-9 fund, send it to:
Houston Police Department
c/o Police K9 Fund
601 S. Grand Avenue
Houston, Mo. 65483.
We want to send a strong message that drugs won’t be tolerated here.”