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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > September 2014 > You play a huge role in school safety

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You play a huge role in school safety

Law enforcement officers play a vital role in the safety and security of Ohio students. Whether you are a full-time school resource officer, patrol near a school, or could be a first responder to a school emergency, it is important to be aware of criminal trends involving teens and best ways to work with school officials in investigations.

Criminal Trends Involving Teens
Unfortunately, criminal behavior such as menacing, bullying, possession of weapons, theft, assault, drug use, and underage drinking are prevalent in schools across Ohio and the nation. Here, we focus on two of the more widespread trends: marijuana dabbing and sexting.
  • Marijuana dabbing: This process involves using a vaporizing device, aka “trippy stick” or e-cigarette, with a concentrated form of marijuana. The marijuana looks like honey or wax and is kept in a small jar called a pot.
“Kids will form a small ball from the wax, about the size of a BB, place it inside an e-cigarette or similar device, and let the heating element melt the wax,” explained Molly Blevins, a detective with the Genoa Township Police Department. “As the wax melts, the highly concentrated THC turns into vapor.”
Trippy sticks are typically smokeless and odorless, and from a distance they can look like pens, making them extremely popular with some students. Online videos demonstrate how vaporizers work and even how teens have used them to get high in class without detection.
“It’s not cheap stuff. One gram can cost up to $60,” Blevins said. Yet, she said, “the user is getting a high that lasts hours from just a few hits off the device.”
Vaporizers are also being used with water-soluble drugs such as methamphetamines, powdered cocaine, bath salts, and other synthetic drugs. They are relatively inexpensive and rechargeable through a USB port.
Joe Graham, a school resource officer at Westerville Central High School, is frustrated that vaporizing devices are legal for teens to buy and possess.
“I do confiscate them (based on school policy), but the only way I can charge a kid (with drug paraphernalia) is if I can find evidence of either nicotine or marijuana,” he said. “The actual device is not classified as drug paraphernalia. The law just hasn’t caught up to the technology.
“Some devices are now being sold to work wet or dry, which means a kid can use wax or leaf marijuana,” he added. “There is really no reason for a kid to have one of these things other than to get high.”
  • Sexting: Although sexting is nothing new, schools are seeing a new trend in how photos are transmitted. Unlike regular text messages, which can be obtained by warrant to the phone provider, kids are using applications such as Snapchat and Kik Messenger to send photos. This type of application, which works only through wi-fi, does not store data on the device or with the provider.
“Kik Messenger, in particular, is difficult to obtain records from since it is based in Canada. We have to work through the Department of Justice,” Graham said.
Blevins said even if photos are on the device, some kids are using applications such as Private Photo Vault to securely store photos. And some are storing photos to remote locations, such as the cloud.
“Take the kid’s phone and place it in airplane mode immediately; do not turn it off. That way it cannot be wiped through the cloud before the lab can analyze it,” Blevins added. A warrant is needed to access items stored in that manner.
Another issue: Teens do not understand they are violating the law by taking and sending nude photos. Sadly, a few students are trading the pictures like baseball cards.
“We do preventative education during orientations and health classes, but kids still don’t understand the long-term implication of sexting,” said Adam Gongwer, a school resource officer with the Ontario Police Department and member of the Ohio School Resource Officers Association board.
It can also be difficult for law enforcement and prosecutors to decide whom to charge and with what crime.
“County prosecutors are between a rock and a hard place when looking at whether to charge the boyfriend for possessing the naked picture of his teenage girlfriend or for sending it to his friends when they break up,” Gongwer said. If charged, teens can face consequences that last a lifetime.
Tips for Working with School Officials
Law enforcement officers and school officials alike benefit when they partner in school investigations and emergency situations.
“Schools can do things that police cannot, and vice versa,” Graham said. This is because the constitutional rights of children in public school buildings are different than outside the building.
“For example, school administration only needs reasonable suspicion to search a locker because it is their property. Law enforcement, on the other hand, will need probable cause and possibly a warrant to search,” Graham said. School administrators are required to develop and inform students about the search policy prior to a search.
Of course, law enforcement cannot direct school administrators to search lockers, people, or possessions. If an officer did so, the administrator would be subject to the same constitutional requirements as the officer. See New Jersey v. T.L.O., U.S. Supreme Court, 1985.
Law enforcement and administrators should also work together when dealing with emergency situations and evacuations. “We have seen in emergency situations where students text message their parents and then parents show up, or kids may leave school grounds on their own,” Gongwar said.
Trying to locate teens or having parents bang on the door during a lockdown can distract from the emergency response. As part of a school’s safety plan, law enforcement and school administrators should discuss such situations and develop plans of action.
It is also important to be prepared and practice for emergency situations. One approach Graham recommends is ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate. ALICE training offers schools proactive strategies that increase chances of survival during an armed intruder event.
“I would recommend all schools in Ohio receive ALICE training,” Graham said. “It is that important.”
Pam Vest Boratyn, who chaired the Ohio Attorney General’s School Safety Task Force, agrees that preparation and practice are essential. Law enforcement should “talk with school officials, teachers, staff, parents, and students to build the trust needed for prevention,” she said. “Local control, organization, and resources are keys to successful planning and execution in the event of an emergency. The response is greatly improved if everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.”
Ohio Attorney General School Safety Task Force
OPOTA: School Resource Officer Training
Ohio School Resource Officers Association
ALICE Training Institute
ACLU of Ohio: Student Rights Handbook
Columbus Channel 10TV News: Police Concerned About Growing Number of Dabbers Using Highly Concentrated Pot, 10TV, Columbus, Jan. 30, 2014
By Jennifer Anne Adair
Deputy General Counsel for Law Enforcement Initiatives