Statesboro High School students enjoyed a special presentation Thursday that preceded an unusual meeting by the Georgia Board of Public Safety. The monthly board meeting is usually held in Atlanta, but this time, board members gathered in the school auditorium.
Gov. Sonny Perdue was there, and spoke to the students about public safety issues pertaining to teenagers. Other officials spoke as well, but it was the dogs that held the students' interest.
Cedric Taylor, manager of Special Operations with the Georgia Department of Corrections, spoke about special operations and how canines help officers in apprehending criminals and detecting dangers such as bombs and drugs.
He talked about prison shakedowns, school searches, search and recovery and other instances where canine helpers are handy. The state has 18 narcotic detection dogs ( Labrador Retrievers, Belgian Malinois, and German Shepherds), 24 tracking dogs, ( Bloodhounds), and three handler protection dogs - Belgian Malinois dogs that are "very aggressive in protecting their handlers," he said, with a warning for the students to remain still in their seats.
"Stay in your seats and don't move," he said with a chuckle, but when the dogs came out, the students watched raptly.
The state also has two explosive detection dogs - Labrador/Shepherd crosses, which sniff out bombs or components used in making them, he said.
A narcotic detecting dog entered first, and soon located a "drug" hidden in the auditorium. The dog equates the find with a chance to play; in training, his toy smells like the contraband he is used to detect, and when he finds drugs he thinks it means time to play, Taylor said.
The bomb component search dog performed in much the same way, sniffing his way across the stage to find what had been hidden. Students clapped as he made his find.
But when the handler protection dog came out, the students perked up as the dog barked fiercely at a law enforcement officer in a heavily padded suit. On command, the dog lunged at the "criminal" and latched onto his thickly padded arm, growling and snatching until the handler ordered him to let go. A moment later, he was commanded to attack again, and did so, much to the delight of the students.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Rusty Andrews also spoke to students about how a criminal history follows you forever, can interfere with future job searches and can happen without warning.
"A criminal history is something that follows you around for the rest of your life," he said. Giving a person a ride in your car who may be carrying drugs could end up with you being charged, he said.
Ray Higgins, with the Department of Driver services, also warned students about tickets, license suspensions for not paying tickets, and new laws regarding texting while driving.
After students were dismissed for lunch, board members met on stage to discuss budget issues, customer service and new Georgia State Patrol posts being built in LaGrange, Forsyth, Americus and Cartersville.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 912-489-9414.