Local company makes schools safer

Published 8:17 pm Friday, October 3, 2008

Typically, when “drug dogs” go to a school, people picture uniformed police officers behind leashed German shepherds, searching lockers and cars and making arrests. For the last 20 years, though, another agency has been bringing detection dogs to schools in an effort to help make them safer and more secure.

Interquest Detection Canines began in Texas in 1988, and now has 40 offices in 20 states, opening an office in Demopolis two years ago, its only office in the State of Alabama.

Lee M. Jordan is the president of Interquest Detection Canines of Alabama, and has dispatched canines to schools locally and as far away as Lauderdale County, near Florence, and the North Pike School District in Summit, Miss. It is not a law enforcement agency, but a program specifically designed to find and deter the issue of contraband in schools.

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Interquest begins its service with a signed contract outlining the number of visits the canines will make to the school during the year. Schools may specify certain dates that they do not want Interquest’s dogs to come calling, but the visits are otherwise made on random dates. Parents of the school system also receive a letter informing them that the school system will be using Interquest’s services that year.

Each school system will then have a designated campus coordinator, which escorts the Interquest team around campus. The first visit is in a school assembly, where students can see a demonstration by the dog and handler. The students are able to ask questions about the program and even pet the dogs.

Interquest uses non-aggressive hunting dogs, like Labradors and golden retrievers, and trains them to detect a wide variety of substances, from marijuana and alcohol to gunpowder and cocaine.

During subsequent visits, schools do not need to be locked down during the search.

“The hallmark of this program is that our dogs can find the contraband items without interfering with the school day,” according to a release issued by Interquest. “We want the kids to see the dogs on campus. We want them to feel comfortable with the dogs. We want to develop a deterrence program, not a ‘gotcha’ program.”

Interquest then writes up a report about any alerts that occur on the school campus, including a detailed description of what contraband items were found and where they were found. All contraband are turned over to the school administrators.

Interquest is used by he Demopolis City School System and the Marengo County School System.Currently, it provides 77 detection canine teams to more than 1,200 school systems nationwide.

“We just added Lauderdale County as our most recent customer,” Jordan said. “We had our first round of inspections there two weeks ago. They were really happy with our service; it keeps them safe.”

Jordan said that there was a meeting in Mississippi last week in which 12 school superintendents met, with one of those being a customer of Interquest. Dr. Ben Cox, the superintendent of the North Pike School District, liked the service of Interquest so much, he recommended it to other superintendents in the area.

“We’ve had to put dogs in north Alabama, and we have them up in Nashville and Benton County, Tenn,” Jordan said. “We have a lot of counties in northwest Alabama.”

While Interquest is built around service to school systems, Jordan said that he has brought dogs to BASF in Huntsville and to Life Tech in Thomasville.”

More information about Interquest can be found at the Web site www.interquestk9.com. People can also call toll-free at 1 800 481-7768.