Students demanded action…
By Breyana Segura
The 81st District Attorney’s Office has launched an early interdiction canine program, Watching Over Our Future (WOOF), to be implemented in all secondary schools.
The law enforcement program is funded by the Texas Governor’s Office.
District Attorney Audrey Gossett Louis said she was contacted by Governor Greg Abbott to be part of a special task force in the aftermath of a school shooting in 2018. The new program, she said, would focus on school safety.
Louis was joined by other elected officials in meeting students from Sante Fe High School to hear the youths’ requests for action to improve school safety.
“While there were many ideas conveyed, universally, all students wanted increased law enforcement presence,” the district attorney said. “Students all said more visible and frequent visits from law enforcement would make them feel more safe and secure.”
DA Louis said her office submitted an application for grant funds that would pay for the salary of the canine handler and canine unit. The drug-detecting dog will be available for every junior and high school in Atascosa, Frio, Karnes, La Salle and Wilson counties.
“These districts will now have access to free, unlimited canine searches,” Louis said. “Searches are done completely randomly, or at the request of the school if there is a specific need.”
Although Pearsall ISD is the only district in Louis’ coverage area with a canine on staff, PISD Chief Chris Marquez welcomes the extra help, the district attorney said.
As of presstime, Charlotte, Cotulla, Dilley, Falls City, Floresville, Jourdanton, Karnes City, La Vernia, Pleasanton, Pearsall, Poteet, Poth, Runge and Stockdale school districts have signed up to be a part of the program.
“The vast majority of our criminal dockets are plagued with cases that stem from drug addiction,” DA Louis said. “The root cause of many of our violent crimes and almost all property crimes is drugs, mainly methamphetamine. Defendants are often required by the court to provide details of their drug use. The overwhelming majority of criminals admit they were exposed to drugs during their junior high or high school years, and many times at school.”
Louis said she believes many school districts cannot justify the cost of a full-time canine handler, a patrol vehicle and a canine.
“Covering over five thousand square miles of South Texas and fifteen independent school districts made the justification easy for our office,” Louis said in her application for the funds. The Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) and the governor’s office agreed with the district attorney.
DA Louis said school violence has become a “disturbing trend and great concern.”
Former Atasocsa County Deputy Daniel Kaufman will be the canine investigator for the district attorney’s office. Kaufman has eight years of law enforcement experience and is an army veteran.
Kaufman’s canine partner, Gerben, is a 3-year-old Dutch Shephard who “loves his job and takes it very seriously,” DA Louis said.
“Since November 8, Investigator Kaufman and Gerben have logged 2,200 miles in the new Tahoe, searched 17 schools, and had five alerts for the odor of narcotics,” the district attorney said. “By no means do I believe this will completely end drug possession or use on school campuses. However, these totally random searches will certainly be an added deterrent to bringing drugs to schools, locker rooms, and parking lots, as well as provide students a sense of safety and security, and hopefully prevent some students from going down the path of those that fill our district courtrooms.”