Sharon Balke, West Side Reporter Romel: ‘Playing a fun game’ Canine narc to patrol schools Houston Spring Branch parents and their friend, Village Police Chief Joe Schultea, are worried about kids getting involved with drugs. It’s a common enough concern, but in Spring Branch they’re going to uncommon lengths to search out and destroy the offending drugs. A group of parents have bought the Village police a dope-sniffing guard dog to patrol school halls and parking lots. Spring Branch school administrators are downright proud of this innovation: Romel, a German shepherd, is believed to be the very first canine to be used to detect drugs on school grounds. But there are a few malcontents who question whether a trained attack dog is the best of all possible means of convincing their children to leave drugs alone. This isn’t the first time that Spring Branch, an affluent suburb of Northwest Houston, has been in the news for taking a hard line against dope. This summer The Houston Post ran a fascinating series on a Spring Branch doctor and his wife who wiretapped their daughter’s telephone almost continually between 1967 and 1973. For four years they did 24-hour-a-day monitoring with equipment that Schultea helpfully borrowed from the Houston po: lice. Then they turned information on dope dealing over to authorities. 6 The Texas Observer Now the parents are onto a new tactic. Romel and a specially equipped car to transport him were purchased by a group of parents who used their own money and gathered contributions from local businesses. They formed a non-profit corporation, Community Drug Detection and Control, Inc., which will lease the dog to the Village police for $1 a year. Officer Chuck Brawner has been assigned as Romel’s handler and the two of them are just completing their training at the Southwest Police Dog Academy of Houston. Brawner and Romel will serve one shift a day for the Village police \(serving four towns: Bunker Hill, Hedwig, Hunters other tour of duty at the schools. The Spring Branch ISD has budgeted $10,000 a year to pay Brawner for his services. An info sheet from Detection, Inc., describes Romel as “a search and attack dog” when he’s working for the police “to reduce burglary and .other crime activity!! When he’s working in the schools, he’s merely “a drug-detecting dog.” C. M. Davidson, a phone company employee who is one of the organizers of Detection, Inc., told the Observer that Romel will primarily be used in junior and senior high schools, but he’ll be “explained and shown” to children in all grades, from first on up. “We’ll focus on junior and senior high,” Davidson said, “but this is not to say we will not make a check of lockers in elementary schools if we have grounds to suspect that there are drugs on the premises.” A brochure on Romel explains his purpose as follows: “To locate drugs for confiscation and drive distributors and pushers away from the facilities of the Spring Branch ISD … Initially, the drugs will be confiscated and a written report made to the school. If subsequent offenses occur a report will be made and turned over to the proper authorities.” Parents will be contacted “if their child appears to be involved in the drug scene.” “Our hope is that we never arrest a student,” Davidson said. “The whole key is that we want the children to realize that we will not allow drugs on school grounds.” School principals and incoming PTA officers were told about Romel in August and most everyone seemed glad to have him aboard. The Houston West Side Reporter, however, located a few unhappy parents. Joan Hanlon, who has three children in Spring Branch schools, asked, “Why are theyusing an attack dog? Can’t the animal be muzzled while he’s in the schools? We all agree on one thing to get the drugs out of the schools. We emphathize with their goals, but the end doesn’t justify the means.” Davidson answers that Romel will be as gentle as a lamb on school grounds. “In the schools the dog will wear a different type of collar, a chain collar as opposed to a leather one,” he explained. “He reacts differently depending on the collar he is wearing. When he’s wearing his chain collar and sniffing out drugs, he automatically changes tempo to be playing a fun game like a retriever. It’s just a big game with him. When he finds narcotics, he brings the package to his handler and he drops it. When he’s thinking about narcotics he’s in a happy mood, a playful mood. It’s a game.” Rita Saalans, another woman who talked to the Reporter, said that several groups in the school district have tried repeatedly to get personal guidance counseling or rehabilitation programs started in the schools, but their attempts failed. Joanne James, a developmental psychologist who has children in the district, said she feels there will be a negative effect on students. “It’s this atmosphere of fear and retaliation,” she said. “Surely if taxpayers are going to pay $10,000 for a police dog, we could get a good rehabilitation program for the kids.” The Houston ACLU has _received_ some complaints from parents in Spring Branch. Joan Glantz of the ACLU said that she has talked to a number of attorneys in an attempt to determine whether there is a legal basis for challenging the dog’s presence in the schools. Meantime, she said, “We would strongly suggest that the powers that be in the school district be very careful about illegal searches and possible violence. Should someone get hurt there is no doubt that we would file suit.” Romel’s raids are expected to begin sometime in October. K.N. Fortnight… STREET ARTISTS Time again for Main Street Art Festival; weekend street happening with art for sale; through Oct. 12, Montrose area near Hermann Park, Houston. OCTOBER 12 BALLET AT ARMADILLO Austin Ballet Theatre continues its Armadillo season with premiere of “Sketches” by Ricardo Garcia, former ABT dancer now with Hanover Ballet in Germany; other ballets on the program are Stanley Hall’s “Sicilian Vespers,” “Pas de Trois,” and “Graduation Ball;” 7:30 p.m., Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin. PIANO SOLOIST Alicia de Larrocha moves on to guest with Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra; 3 p.m., also Oct. 14, Landreth Auditorium, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth. OCTOBER 13 COUNTRIFIED CASH Johnny Cash joins State Fair on Music Hall stage, with everlovin’ June Carter and the Carter Family alongside; through Oct. 19, State Fairgrounds, Dallas. OCTOBER 14 WARTIME TRALALA “Oh What a Lovely War,” with TCU cast; through Oct. 19, University Theatre, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth.