Nico, a gun-detection dog, joins law-enforcement team at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

The 2-year-old German Shepherd, born in the Czech Republic, is part of an extensive effort to bolster school security.

Nico, a German Shepherd born in the Czech Republic, will be used by law-enforcement officers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools to check students’ book bags for guns, starting with the fall session that begins Aug. 26. Photo: Qcitymetro

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools today introduced the newest member of its law-enforcement team – a two-year-old dog named Nico.

Nico, a German Shepherd trained to sniff out firearms, was brought to the United States from the Czech Republic — part of an extensive effort to bolster security at CMS school. That effort also will include portable metal detectors, stronger locks and doors, and a $1 million emergency-alert system in all CMS high schools.

District officials said the additional measures will all be in place when school starts August 26.

“The wellbeing and safety of our students and staff are always top priority at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,” district Superintendent Earnest Winston told reporters at a media briefing. “…Our schools are safer because of these improvements.”

Why it matters: As school shootings have become more common across the U.S., districts nationwide are spending more to ensure student safety. Within CMS, a 16-year-old student was shot and killed by another student in a Butler High School hallway last fall following a dispute that started away from the school.

K-9 assists

At the media briefing, an officer with the CMS Police Department demonstrated how Nico will be used to search book bags for guns. When a surprise search is conducted, students will be asked to leave their belongings at their desks and then exit the room before the dog is brought in. During the media demonstration, Nico wasted no time before finding an unloaded gun that officers had stashed inside a book bag. CMS officials said the gun-detection dog was used during the district’s summer session and found one firearm.

CMS Police Chief Lisa Mangum said that while the dog can search efficiently and may serve as a deterrent, it can’t replace the need for student involvement.

“We depend on our kids to tell us, and they do tell us,” she said, adding that half of all guns rounded up in CMS schools are discovered as a result of students notifying a teacher or principal.

CMS already uses a dog to detect the presence of illegal drugs.

Emergency Alerts

CMS staff worked over the summer to install an electronic alert system in every high school. The system is activated when a teacher or school official presses on a small plastic card that will be worn around their necks and attached to a lanyard. Activation will cause special ceiling lights to flash either red, yellow, green or blue, indicating the nature of the emergency. (Officials said the cards are designed to minimize the risk of accidental activation.)

CMS spent $1 million to install an electronic alert system in every high school. Color-coded lights will flash to indicate the nature and pinpoint the location of an emergency. Photo: Qcitymetro

Each card will identify the CMS employee to whom it is assigned and will act as a beacon to potentially guide first responders to the exact location of that employee. Once an emergency is declared, the system can be deactivated only by designated employees in the district’s central office.

The system eventually will be installed in all CMS schools, officials said.

Portable metal detectors

Starting this fall, CMS will add portable, walk-though metal detectors as a primary tool to find guns and knives during surprise searches. Officials said the detectors will allow officers to scan students more efficiently. Last January, the district began using hand-held wands to check students for weapons during random searches. Those wands will now be used as a supplement, officials said.

Even with the walk-though units, CMS lacks capacity to scan every student entering a school, officials said, so the detectors will be used to scan students in designated buildings, or parts of a school. The detectors will be set up in rooms away from a school’s main entrances, officials said.

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