Man’s best friend is helping educators crack down on vaping in Citrus County public schools this year.
Starting this school year, a specially trained K-9 will be brought to detect vape pens, nicotine and THC in schools. The new program was made possible after the Citrus County School Board approved the move a few months ago.
The idea came to School Board Police Chief David Vincent after he noticed the amount of vape pens brought to schools by students. The K-9, known as Sami, will sniff out those pens in lockers and on people.
“With the ability to bring Sami into a classroom and share what he does for a job with those students, it might make them think about we shouldn’t be doing these things or bringing these devices,” Vincent said. “Hopefully having that prevention piece attached to that.”
Sami the K-9 has been trained by Trisha and Sgt. Rich Cunningham through Dawg Phonics K-9 Training.
Outside the Citrus County School Board Police Department, a four-legged rookie named Sami is being put through his paces.
“He goes into work mode when he puts his work clothes on,” says Donna Bateman, a Citrus County Schools guardian and Sami’s handler.
Sami is the department’s newest and youngest recruit. But he wasn’t just hired for his good looks.
“He’s got a good scent,” said Bateman. “He’s usually sensing or smelling something. He’s always going to be smelling something and you’ll hear him, too.”
Sami is the first K-9 in Citrus trained to sniff out three particular scents at schools.
“THC, vapes and nicotine,” Bateman said.
Vape pens have been a growing problem throughout the district in recent years.
“We find these kids that are bringing them to school, going to the bathroom, sharing them with each other," Bateman said. "We’re just trying to get a handle on what’s happening and try to be preventive.”
Being just a little over six months old, Bateman said there’s plenty more training in store for Sami.
“He looks up a lot to see what I want him to do next,” she said.
But Bateman said she and Sami are ready to learn together, and bring awareness with them to the classroom.
“Hopefully we can be a deterrent and help these kids start learning again instead of worrying about doing stuff they’re not supposed to be doing,” she said.