K9 unit within HISD’s patrol division sniffs out trouble

Sasha spends most of her work day sniffing around HISD schools, searching for anything that doesn’t belong – drugs, weapons or suspects.

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The work is part of a normal day for the 2-year-old Dutch Shepherd, one of four K9 dogs serving on the Houston Independent School District Police Department’s patrol unit.

“The number one goal for the K9 department is to be a visual deterrent,” said HISD PD K9 officer Stephanie Clinton. “If the kids see administration and law enforcement all working together as a group, I’ve seen it make a difference. That is a huge reason why we have the K9s.”

The K9 unit is just one facet of the department. HISD PD has grown into a full-service law enforcement agency since it began in 1973 as a security services department for the district. It also includes community policing, crime prevention, and alcohol and drug awareness. The department also ranks as the only accredited public school district police department in the nation.

Each K9 is also specifically trained to conduct area searches for contraband that students are trying to hide or throw away when they see the dogs. If Sasha picks up on a scent, she alerts Clinton by holding still in her spot.

“Sasha is trained to sniff the floor for narcotics because the smell is heavier on the floor than in the air,” said Clinton.

Clinton says the first thing that comes to mind about working with Sasha is respect.

“Sasha makes it easier on me every day, and without her we wouldn’t have been able to help so many students and families in the district,” said Clinton. “She has done so much for the student body, and I think she knows she’s important because she’s so loved.”

One major priority of the patrol unit is making sure each campus is safe from the moment they open until each door is locked at the end of the day. Although there are variations between traditional and school law enforcement, HISD PD functions like any other police department, handling their own booking, processing and writing of citations. Throughout the school day, HISD patrol officers set up speed trailers and radars along school zones to spot motorists speeding or breaking the law.

“For patrol operations, it’s about getting the kids into school safely by using speeding enforcements to get motorists to slow down in school zones and making sure they don’t run red lights around buses,” said HISD PD Sgt. Al Barbosa.

Barbosa says many incidents are defused and cases are solved when an officer builds a rapport with students at the individual schools. The goal is to work with students to prevent crimes.

“Some kids will come up and tell you about incidents, and then there’s those kids that it may be their own friend who’s involved, but they know that it needs to be reported,” said Barbosa.

The department’s work isn’t limited to school hours. Officers work around the clock responding to emergency calls to keep students and staff safe.

“We’re out here doing our job trying to make a difference,” said Barbosa.