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Simon says, 'the nose knows'

Simon guards the halls at all of the South Washington County middle and high schools armed with nothing but his nose.

Simon is a narcotics dog with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

Officer Keith Anderson, of the investigations division, takes Simon into the schools to perform random narcotics sniffs of lockers, classrooms and even the parking lot.

"The way it works is that the school has to request our services," Anderson said. "Everything we do is directed and guided by the administration of the school."

Currently Anderson and Simon search between 16 and 20 schools throughout Washington County.

"Every school, every place always has a few people who have their problems -- it doesn't matter the school, it doesn't matter the city," Anderson said. "You're still going to have a few kids who are developing issues."

Long-term partnership

In 2004, the Washington County Sheriff's Department developed a partnership with the schools in the area through a grant that the South Washington County Schools Education Foundation received from 3M.

On average, Anderson said they perform about 60 searches per year, and each search uncovers between two and three alerts.

"The bulk of what we find is paraphernalia," he said.

Simon is trained to detect the odors of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, mushrooms, khat and ecstasy. Simon went through a six- to-eight week training program.

"We have found almost all types of drugs within the schools," Sgt. Brian Mueller, of the sheriff's department said. "It's never large amounts, but it's all drugs."

What makes a good narcotics dog?

Simon is a 6-year-old black Labrador retriever. A lab's hyper personality helps it as a narcotics dog.

"The people who train the drug sniffing dogs, all they're looking for is a dog with a high play drive -- a dog that wants to work and a dog that wants to play," Anderson said. "The company will virtually use any breed of dog."

Additionally, smaller dogs are better for narcotics detection since they can get into the tight or small spaces.

In the past the sheriff's department has worked with an English springer spaniel, a golden retriever and a Jack Russell terrier as its narcotics dogs. Anderson said he has also heard of an Australian shepherd pug mix being a narcotics dog.

Anderson said the narcotics dogs are referred to as soft dogs since they are not like street dogs trained in apprehension; they are strictly trained in detection.

"Simon wouldn't know the first thing to do with apprehension," Anderson said. "He couldn't care less if you're standing in the hallway, his whole goal is to sniff out something to get that reward."

When the sheriff's department goes into the schools, Anderson said they have a wide variety of reactions from students, fear, nerves and even a few who want to play with Simon.

"You get people who are terrified of the dog and people who would love to pet him," Anderson said. "Plus you have the few nervous faces because if you have a reliable dog that can find that stuff, they know that there's no place to hide it.

"Simon's not aggressive, but he is a dog, so we encourage students to leave him alone since he's there to work -- we need to keep him focused."

Benefits of a narcotics dog in school

The whole goal behind having the narcotics dog within the school is to ensure that the students are free of drugs and distractions.

"We're trying to provide a drug free environment," Mueller said.

Over the last six years, Anderson said they have seen a dramatic decrease in alerts at the schools.

"It means that the message is getting across," he said.

East Ridge High School assistant principal Dennis Roos said the school is trying to keep its students honest.

However, an additional benefit that Anderson and Mueller have seen in the schools related to having Simon patrolling the halls is that they can identify students who may be developing problems early on when it can still be helped.

"We may be able to find that student whose parents aren't aware that he's developing an addiction or the schools aren't aware that he's developing an addiction and we can potentially stop that kid and help them now," Anderson said. "They can try and resolve that before it becomes a serious problem."

Although Anderson and Mueller have seen a decrease in alerts at the schools, they have not seen a decrease in youth drug use.

"The tool is lessening the drug possession in the schools, but it's not lessening the drug problem of our youth," he said.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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