by Daisy Creager| Staff Writer
He’s outdoorsy, likes long walks on the beach, (well long walks in general really), and enjoys Kong toys filled with peanut butter. But when he’s on the job, Leonard is not your typical Labrador.
“I was in my homeroom class. It was like towards the end of last year. They told us to stand up and put our hands on our heads and line up in the hallway. We had to leave our stuff in the classroom so the dog could smell what it needed to and come smell us outside,” said sophomore Carly Porras.
Three years ago, the North East police department decided to adopt a K-9 unit. In the past they had contracted a private company to do drug searches in the schools, but adding a K-9 unit would be more productive and cost effective.
“We had to apply for the position then go through an interview process with a board of peers. In this type of position they usually look for a more mature officer and one with experience and longevity,” K-9 officer Greg Reusink said. “When they started the program they hadn’t planned on getting a dog. I knew I’d have to pay for one out of pocket. I bought Leonard from a kennel who sells trainable dogs to the Department of Defense. The owner of the kennel is also a friend of mine.”
The team did training together through the SAPD and Hill Country Dog Center, getting certified in three weeks. Every week they train with other handlers, and each year they have to get recertified. Leonard is trained to sit down or stiffen when he detects the odor of narcotics.
“Sometimes an alert can be as little as just him sniffing a bag closely,” Reusink said. “One student had a duffel bag with about 20 boxes of pop tarts. I thought that was rather strange, then we found out that he was selling the pop tarts on campus without permission. So Leonard has a way of not only finding drugs but also finding violations of school rules.”
In the event that the team finds narcotics, serious action is taken.
“We identify who they belong to, and then that person is arrested. The narcotics are held as evidence,” Reusink said. “Sometimes people will attempt to hide the drugs in the restroom and exterior of the school. When we find those narcotics, we take possession of them for destruction. This happens often, especially lately.”
Officer Reusink and Leonard search the district campuses at random when Reusink isn’t tied up helping campuses that are short handed. They try to hit each campus once or twice a month.
“It’s pretty random. They come from time to time, they tell us a few days ahead of time, and an administrator goes with them. The classrooms we visit are simply chosen at random, and sometimes we just walk down the hall,” assistant principal Steve Zimmerman said. “They may think we’re looking for one particular person but it’s not the case, it’s completely random.”
When they’re not on the job, Leonard lives at home with Officer Reusink. This way Leonard builds trust and obedience for his partner.
“At home Leonard is just another one of my pets. I have a total of five dogs and three cats, so another dog was no big deal. The real change was at work. I have become much more visible throughout the district. I also had to face my fear of standing up in front of large groups to talk since we do a lot of presentations,” Reusink said.
Overall, the K-9 unit has been successful in discouraging narcotics at schools throughout the district.
“This year it seems like we have fewer cases for narcotics than the first year we started,” Reusink said. “We also do searches during summer school and it has made a big difference there too. I do think that all districts should try to have a K-9 unit.”