Kilgore Police Department and Kilgore ISD have a new partner in their effort to keep schools safe and he's ready to hit the ground running – on all fours.
At Tuesday's city council meeting, KPD Chief Todd Hunter introduced Ruger, a Labrador retriever, who has been specially trained to partner up with School Resource Office Clint Johnson to detect illicit or dangerous substances on KISD campuses.
Before Ofc. Johnson brought his new K9 partner into the council chambers, Hunter explained Ruger had spent the summer training in empty buildings and was still a little timid around people. However, Ofc. Johnson and Ruger have been training to get accustomed to Ruger's new working environment.
“He has been at the school this week and he's learning the bells and all of those sounds that go along with the school,” Hunter said.
Ruger, a donated rescue dog only one-and-a-half years old, is not timid when hard at work in empty classrooms and hallways, Hunter said, and these will be the locations where he works.
Ofc. Johnson, an SRO for a year, spent four weeks in Louisiana with Ruger and a dog trainer, where they were both certified for Ruger's unique mission. The dog's name was chosen when KPD made a Facebook post and asked the community to help decide on a name.
Unlike other police dogs, Ruger is trained with school campuses in mind.
“He is the only dog that we know of his kind that belongs to a police department,” Hunter said. “What I mean by that is, Ruger is school-specific. The items that he looks for are not just illegal but they're illicit for a school setting.”
Ruger is trained to detect items students are prohibited from bringing on KISD campuses and will primarily focus his efforts on the middle school and high school. He can detect items like nicotine, alcohol, narcotics and gunpowder by scent.
This allows him to sniff out vaping or e-cigarette devices which students are banned from bringing on campus, as well as firearms, bullets and even prescription drugs and synthetic drugs.
Hunter said introducing K9 Ruger was a preventative measure for KISD.
“Some might say, well, does Kilgore have such a bad problem? No, we don't, but we don't want that problem. We want to be proactive. We're working with KISD and I brought this up to them and they liked that idea. We want to create an environment at KISD so that kids can learn without having all of these other things that might pop up.”
Ruger's training means that he can't be used for typical police procedures, such as a traffic stop and search for illegal substances, because he is trained to detect things like nicotine. While nicotine isn't illegal for adults, it's becoming a big problem for school campuses, especially in the form of vaping, Hunter said..
“A couple years ago, we began to see vaping. Every school district has problems with vaping but this is a vape detector on wheels right here, he is good!” Hunter said, gesturing to Ruger.
KPD's work to stop the sale of illegal drugs actually helped make their new partnership program with KISD a reality.
“We're proud to partner with KISD on this. The dog was donated but we used seized funds for the training. It was about $5,000 to get him trained and we'll have some additional training but we're using seizure funds from a drug dealer to train our drug dog and that's what they were meant to do.”
Ofc. Johnson and Chief Hunter then set up a demonstration of Ruger's abilities for council members. Placing school backpacks on the council room floor, Johnson led Ruger over the backpacks until the dog alerted and sat near a pack where he caught the scent of something prohibited at schools.
In the first pack, Ruger sniffed out a small vape tank, part of a vaping device which holds nicotine-infused liquid. In the second pack, he detected a small bottle of liquor.
Ruger will live with Johnson and the two will use a KPD vehicle previously used for a former K9 officer. The two will work every day at Kilgore High and make occasional visits to Kilgore Middle School.
Hunter explained Ruger would not alert on a student who lived in a home with a parent who smoked cigarettes because he was trained to detect the scent of nicotine, not smoke.
“Through the KBAD (Kilgore Bulldogs Against Drugs) program, through Ruger and other things that they have at KISD, we're really going to make a difference. Again, it's not because we have a problem, it's because we don't want to have a problem and we want to create a good learning environment,” Hunter said.
Johnson and Ruger will also visit other district campuses for drug prevention and education lessons.
“Ruger will be working with our elementary to help educate. We're hitting all the way up. He's going to be working with our counselors, working in there with some character education and understanding that relationship with officers,” said Asst. Superintendent Richard Nash. “We're excited it's going K-12.”