Education and a dog could be the key to combating the drug problem in Lacey, resident Jim Letellier told the township committee.
As a retired Lacey police officer and a former member of the Board of Education, Letellier sees the drug problem as rampant. Back when he was on the board, 10 percent of the student population in high school were getting drug tested or had been caught.
“The amount of crimes that’s related to drugs and the amount of drug use that goes on in this town is getting worse,” he said. “For too many years, too many people kept their head in the sand because they didn’t want it to get out that there’s a drug problem.”
According to the high school’s report card, there were 14 cases of students caught with drugs last year, he said. But when the students are caught in school, the incident goes unreported.
“I can guarantee you it’s over 200,” he said. “I’m standing here and I’m backed up because I know what the statistics were when I was on the school board. A drug dog is a very valuable tool to help you combat this.”
Letellier is asking the township committee to consider purchasing a K-9 for narcotics detection and says the move is “long overdue.”
“I personally lost a brother due to drugs,” he said. “I’m telling you, it’s a tool that is valuable to law enforcement.”
In October, as to why they do not participate in K-9 searches.
“The incidents of controlled dangerous substances (CDS) have gone up,” Risoli said. “In this town, like every other town, things have to be done to keep things in control.”
Then Superintendent Richard Starodub said the school district’s relationship with the police department is solid. Lacey was the first school district in Ocean County to promote K-9 searches in the early ‘80’s.
Since then, rules surrounding searches and the use of dogs have changed, he said. A group of superintendents throughout the county made former county superintendent Bruce Greenfield aware of their interest in resuming K-9 searches.
On occasion, the district has worked with the county sheriff’s department to conduct training exercises in the schools, Starodub said. The last search was a couple years ago.
There were discrepancies surrounding when and how a K-9 dog could be used. According to a court ruling, K-9’s cannot be used to directly search the students, Letellier said. However, the dogs can be used to search locations throughout the schools and the air.
The township agreed that Lacey is facing a serious drug problem. “We all know there’s a drug problem in Lacey. There’s a drug problem in Bayville, a drug problem in Stafford, the whole country,” Mayor Mark Dykoff said.
In 2011, Committeeman Sean Sharkey and Dykoff were approached by a veterinarian based out of Whiting who offered free services if the township purchased a dog. Sharkey has spoken to Chief William Nally on this subject and plans to discuss it with him again in the upcoming weeks.
“So we are actually trying to get a dog,” Sharkey said. “Whether it’s designated as a drug dog or a multi-purpose dog, we’re still in the very early ages.”
Sharkey is also aware of outside funding that could help cover the costs.
Committeeman David Most, on the other hand, disagrees that a K-9 unit would be all that helpful.
“As far as the dogs being in the schools when the kids aren’t around but what kind of teeth is that?” he said. “I’m working hard with my avenues at the Municipal Alliance.”
“There’s more to be done,” Letellier said. Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) and K-9’s have an incredible success rate.
“As much as when people wanted to make fun of Nancy Reagan’s “say no to drugs,” it works,” he said. “The intent is to be proactive preventative. There are a lot of sources for after the fact. We want to reach them before.”
The Lacey Township School District does not currently use a DARE program.
The school district uses a multi-prong approach with a zero-tolerance policy on drugs, current Superintendent Sandra Brower said. Schools use discipline, counseling, education and outreach and support.
“There is no one solution,” she said. “We understand and accept the reality that this is a problem that needs everyone’s attention. We cannot solve this problem alone and we are not alone in dealing with the problem of substance abuse.”
Just as Lacey schools have worked with local law enforcement agencies using drug detection dogs in the past, the district would be willing in the future, School Board President Jack Martenak said.
Rules and procedures surrounding how and when dogs are used is determined by the agency providing the resources, he said. In the past, the Ocean County Prosecutors Office has coordinated.
“However, I think its important to caution that dogs are not a magic cure, and have limited enforcement value, as seen last week in Lakewood, although they can have a deterrent value,” he said.
The school district will continue to work with local officials, law enforcement and community groups to combat the drug problem in town, he said.
“If drugs are in our schools, then drugs are in our community and everyone must be actively involved in helping kids stay drug-free - whatever it takes," Brower said.
Nally did not return calls for comment.