Filler: Release the (drug sniffing) hounds!

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Ralph Fuellbier, a Suffolk County Police Officer and Ralph Fuellbier, a Suffolk County Police Officer and a member of the K-9 unit, rewards his police dog, Angus, with a play toy after he finds a search item during training in Yaphank. (Dec. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/ J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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Lane Filler Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010

Having attended high school (or at least been enrolled in a few of them) in the 1980s, I have a hard time imagining drug-sniffing dogs being set loose to prowl past student lockers. Based on my hazy memories, the smell of illicit drugs completely permeated my school days. Any dogs subjected to those hallways would have been too high to do anything but grab a sleeve of Chips Ahoy and a Mountain Dew at the snack bar and zone out in front of a film strip on the life cycle of the badger.

So when I read that Northport High School will soon have dogs pacing its halls, searching for drug stashes in lockers, I had mixed feelings. The practice is becoming more widespread on Long Island, where districts like Sachem and Sag Harbor have embraced it, and nationally. While it likely won't do much good, the people protesting it are being sillier than the ones supporting it.

Drugs, and drug use among kids, are problems, make no mistake. In Suffolk County, the problems are worsening: Opiate-related deaths soared from 118 to 227 from 2010 to 2011, and those fatalities among people 29 or younger went from 33 to 60 in the same period.

Nobody wants young people to die from drug use.

But keeping kids from having drugs in their lockers will probably change their storage plans and the timing of their highs more than their consumption levels. That's fine: Keeping drugs out of schools, or children sober from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., has value.

The Suffolk County Police Department has done 20 sweeps in 11 schools since late 2010, resulting in only three arrests, all linked to marijuana. That's not many, but it doesn't encompass the number of students at those schools who have ever stored drugs in their lockers. It only highlights three kids so hopelessly stoned that they kept doing it even after their school adopted a drug-sniffing dog policy.

So, it's just another of those rules that won't solve a big problem as much as proponents wish it would, but that won't do any harm.

Yet opponents of the idea in Northport say it will draw lawsuits, is an invasion of privacy and carries the implication that every student is a suspect.

Now, I believe in legal everything, in one's own home. If you want to smoke cocaine in the privacy of your den while marijuana fumes shoot out of the radiator vents, a prostitute reclines in the La-Z-Boy, and you shoot craps for $500 a roll against the back of the fireplace, I say "more power to ya." Fifteen years ago, single, childless and brimming with vitality, I would have said "I'll bring the bean dip and the Tylenol," but now I just say "more power to ya."

Yet I've got no problem with dogs smelling school lockers.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that a dog sniffing luggage in an airport wasn't a search, and in 2005, that a dog snuffling around the exterior of an automobile wasn't a search.

These lockers are fair game.

The pooch-patrol is not an invasion of privacy, since no one has to store things in these lockers, and the school, not the students, owns them. It does make everyone a suspect, in the same sense that pointing a radar gun at every car on a highway does, but these initial investigations -- the schnauzer sniffs or radar bursts -- are so nonintrusive they don't violate rights.

And I have to say, as a parent, if my kid is dumb enough or addicted enough to keep drugs at school, I want her caught, so I can get her help.

So, if your kids are demanding that you go to school and fight the power, your time might be better spent borrowing one of those dogs to sniff through their room. That's also constitutional, if anyone asks.

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