Overriding strong opposition from a resident, the South Pasadena City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a contract between the city and the South Pasadena Unified School District for a narcotics-sniffing dog to be occasionally deployed at the high school and the middle school.
The council voted, 5-0, at its first meeting in the New Year to back a 10-year memorandum of understanding, extendable for an additional two years, which would bring to an end the services of a private K-9 vendor that the SPUSD has relied on for years to help keep school campuses free of drugs.
The discussion that culminated in the undivided vote was kicked off by Linda Krausen, a resident of Grevelia Street who told the council that although her daughter graduated from South Pasadena High School years ago, the idea of a drug-sniffing dog on campus is “an absolutely appalling image for our school.”
South Pasadena Police Department Chief Art Miller clarified that the SPUSD had a long-term contract with a private K-9 vendor, which was coming to an end, “and I saw an opportunity to work with the community in a partnership on creating a program that perhaps would be a little better.”
The chief added that while he doesn’t “completely disagree with the vision of having a K-9 on campus, the stark reality is that there are narcotics throughout our community, and anything we can do to curtail that we’re going to do.”
To that end, the police department recently bought Barry, an 18-month Belgian Malinois narcotics-sniffing dog (imported from Europe), Miller said, adding that the purchase was through grant money that cost the city nothing.
Besides, said Miller, the cost of the dog’s upkeep, estimated at $12,000 annually, barring emergency care, would be shared by both the SPUSD and the city—“a win-win situation for both the school [district] and the city.
It’s the police department’s fervent hope, Miller specified, to “never ever” arrest anyone affiliated with the city’s schools as a result of K-9 campus activity. “That’s not what our goal is, “ he said. “Our goal is to create some harmony in the school [district] and to also let our community know that we take the safety and welfare of our community very seriously.”
Additionally, Barry would be deployed at various city functions such as sporting events and dances, Miller said.
In response to an opinion expressed by former mayor Richard Schneider that it’s more important for the city to have an explosives-sniffing dog than one trained to sniff out narcotics, Miller said that the city’s bomb-detection dog Rex recently died and that he is expected to be replaced in March or April.
Although “we don’t get many calls within our community for bomb detection,” the presence of an explosives-sniffing dog gives the city an opportunity to share K-9 services with larger partner cities in the San Gabriel Valley, while at the same time using the dog in South Pasadena schools whenever necessary, Miller said.
Councilmember Diana Mahmud, South Pasadena’s newest elected representative and a self-admitted expert in contractual law, recommended that the city’s contract with the SPUSD regarding Barry be reduced from 10 years to five years.
Mahmud referred to a clause in the contract under which the school district is required to reimburse the city for certain costs, within certain limits. “And I just thought that that potentially exposes the city to an unfunded liability,” she said.
In the end, the council did not heed Mahmud’s suggestion. Mahmud nevertheless backed Mayor Marina Khubesrian’s motion for approving a 10-year contract.
Chief Miller told Patch that Barry has already begun visits to the high school and that students generally enjoy his presence on campus.
Councilmember Michael Cacciotti asked Miller to ensure that a vehicle powered by compressed natural gas be Barry’s mode of transport at all times, not least because police dogs are known to spend endless hours in cars before and after deployment—and fuel emissions can be harmful to their health.