School drug sweeps common in Mon Valley
By Jeremy Sellew
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 12:21 a.m.
Police last week found illegal drugs at Monessen High School and Belle Vernon Area High School and Middle School.
But education officials and police elsewhere also battle school-based drug activity.
Jason Demko, who leads the Belle Vernon Area Drug Task Force, said K-9 officers detected illegal drugs Thursday at the high school and the middle school.
Demko trains K-9 dogs.
After suspected marijuana was found in a locker at the high school, one high school student was suspended and faces possible expulsion.
“We had one hit in each building,” Demko said. “It works out for us, because we keep it completely random. The only people that know when we're going to the school is myself and Lt. (John) Christner of the Rostraver Township police.
“Even the principals don't know when we're coming. That's the way we want it.”
Demko said he could not release the identities of the students involved, and referred inquiries to Christner, who could not be reached by phone Tuesday.
On Friday, Monessen High School student Irvin Kili Green, 18, of 476 Reed Ave. was charged with felony possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.
Monessen School District police Chief John Bachinski filed the charges.
According to an affidavit of probable cause, Monessen K-9 Officer Uri hit on Green's camouflage backpack during a classroom search that was part of a planned sweep of the high school.
With Bachinski present, Principal Brian Sutherland searched the backpack and found three, individually wrapped baggies containing approximately 3.1 grams of suspected marijuana, the affidavit states.
Sutherland said the planned searches are consistent with procedures in other districts.
“Typically, we would like to do three to four sweeps per year,” Sutherland said. “It's always tough scheduling them with the police department and arranging for the dog. … Generally, we'd like to do one per nine week period.”
In the Ringgold School District, in-house police handle most matters involving illegal drugs.
“We don't use dogs,” Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla said.
“The school police perform their job functions well. If they have reason to believe that a student is in possession of something, they will do a search of that student themselves.
“They do have the ability that if they need to call for a dog, they can.”
Charleroi Area Acting Superintendent Reid Smith acknowledged that district police have the same powers as those in municipal departments and handle situations as they arise.
Demko said area residents should be aware that drug problems exist in every school district.
“There are some in wealthier communities that definitely have their blinders on,” Demko said. “They say, ‘it's not my son' or ‘it's not my daughter.'” Coming from a wealthier area, I can assure you, it's just as bad here in Rostraver Township.”
Demko said that while searches at BVA are random, the drug task force also acts on tips received through its website, www.bvataskforce.com.
“We've had parents and students give us tips,” Demko said.
“If we see an increase in activity or chatter, or a principal may call us, we'll take the tip.
“They just don't know when we'll be coming. There's times when we go in one day and show up the very next day.”
Thursday's search at Belle Vernon Area carried visual impact.
The search involved six K-9 officers including dogs from Clairton, Cecil Township, Ligonier Township, Ligonier Borough, and Lewistown, Pa.
“The morning we did the search, Clairton's K-9 had just participated in a bust that recovered 50 bricks of heroin and $8,500 cash,” said Demko, explaining the scope of illicit drug activity.
“He left there and came here. Clairton is right down the highway. It's everywhere, and it's here in our community.”
Demko said the task force routinely hits many schools each year.
“All the schools are doing this now. We're no worse in Rostraver or Belle Vernon Area than anyone else. Every school has the same problem,” he said.
Demko noted that an upcoming drug summit at Belle Vernon Area High School and Reality Tour program approved by the school board will be instrumental in educating students and parents.
“Teaching on how to recognize certain habits and behaviors is extremely important,” Demko said. “Educating the students on the dangers is just as important, but the parents and faculty need to be able to identify the signs.”
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2667.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rostraver landfill fined $160,000 for bad odors
- Photo gallery: Ringgold High School students stage ‘Tarzan: The Stage Musical’
- New Eagle dance on as scheduled; ‘Porky’ Chedwick tribute in works
- 4 Donora men to stand trial for Rostraver hotel incident
- Charges mounting in Monessen drug case
- Belle Vernon students show grasp of history
- Ailing Monongahela girl’s medical info missing from hospital
- St. Molokai parish ruling imminent
- Brownsville alum to discuss Battle of Gettysburg’s impact on townspeople
- Two more Washington County drug suspects jailed
- Yough Middle School Science Fair continues to grow after 9 years