Henderson schools are one step closer to having a regular four-legged visitor on campus. The district has agreed to contribute $41,000 toward the purchase of a Henderson Police Department K9 unit, a vehicle and supplies to support the dog. The remainder of the projected $70,000 cost will be funded by the city.
“There is an inherent value in having a K9 unit on campus,” said HISD Superintendent Dr. Thurston Lamb. “It is a deterrent. Kids need to know that if something is brought on campus, we have a way to detect it.”
While the specific points of the agreement are still being worked out, both sides say they are looking forward to the partnership.
“We are currently working with the school and ironing out the details,” said Henderson Police Chief Chad Taylor. “The program will benefit the school and the city. Overall, it will have a positive outcome for the community and HISD.”
Lamb said the city manager approached the district with the idea last year. In an informational briefing in December, the school board was told that the city wanted to form two new K9 units. The city was seeking some funding to help make the project a reality.
“This is a good thing for students and the district,” Lamb explained. “It’s not just going to help the city, but having a good partnership with them will help us too.”
The board gave its approval for the partnership and the funding at a special board meeting held in January. The decision was not without some opposition as the final vote was split 6-1 with Trustee Jon Johnston opposing the measure.
“I wish we would have considered more options,” said Johnston explaining his vote. He went on to note that one of the cheaper options might be to contract with a company to bring drug detection dogs to campus periodically.
“I’m not sure this isn’t the best for the district, but it was just hurriedly done.” He said he supported partnerships with local agencies but was concerned that the district would be bearing a greater portion of the costs while the police department retained ownership of the assets.
According to Lamb, the initial K9 unit will split its time between working on campus and working with officers in the city. It will be trained for both detection of weapons and drugs as well as assisting officers with arrests.
“The first dog will be a police dog, not be an animal that can be petted by students,” explained Lamb. “However, the second K9 unit will remain on campus and handled by the school resource officer (SRO) at the middle school.”
“There are not a lot of districts that have a K9 in the district,” continued Lamb. “Many schools have a schedule where they come out once a month or even every other month, and they can’t go to every campus. But when you have one in the district, you can go to every campus and do it a lot more often. The idea is that it happens often enough that it becomes a deterrent. Then students stop bringing things on campus.”
Once a dog is available, local K9 training typically takes a few weeks. Lamb said he hopes to have the first dog visiting campuses before the end of this school year and the second K9 unit ready by the time school starts in the fall.