York City schools approve gun, bomb-sniffing dog amid rising violence

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

York City school police officers sighed in relief when the school board voted Wednesday night to move forward with a plan to outfit the district with a dog that can sniff out gun and bomb residue

The school's communications coordinator, Khera Bowman, said the dog can detect weapons residue and scents of missing children. It will not detect drugs.

Once the proposal was passed at Wednesday night's school board meeting, Chief of School Police Quinn Johnson and Officer Todd Tyler got up, hugged each other and left the board room. Superintendent Andrea Berry said the two men were emotional about the situation and worried about community feedback.

More:Unusually deadly year: York County has had 23 homicides to date this year

More:York County Regional Police to patrol schools during school year

More:New program allows high school seniors to explore building trades

The measure came in response to a spate of gun violence near the schools, some of which involved students. By Berry's estimate, nine students have died since she joined the district in 2017.

“That’s nine too many,” she reiterated Wednesday.

Police already have a dog at the ready: Blaze, a 1-year-old Belgian Malinois who has a few hours left of training before he can begin patrols. The plan is to pay for him with a two-year grant, which Berry said the district must still apply for. She's optimistic the district will win. The district is working out the details of how much the dog will cost in total.

If all goes well, police expect Blaze to begin working Oct. 15.

York City School police officer Todd Tyler poses with detection dog Blaze. If all goes well, Blaze should be patrolling the neighborhoods near York City schools as early as Oct. 15. York City School District photo

Blaze will not enter the schools and will only be used to sniff around the neighborhoods for threats, Johnson and Tyler said. Berry said the dog will not interact with the children, their possessions or the school. If there is an issue, staff will clear the area before the dog enters.

The community seemed to stand by the idea.

According to Berry, 95% of the 100 parents and guardians who responded to a recent survey on the issue supported the district's plan to add the dog.

Johnson said he's pleased with the outcome of Wednesday night's meeting because he wants the school to be a "safe haven" for children.

Please consider subscribing to The York Dispatch.

Police came up with the idea two months ago, after doing a lot of research to find a solution for the sheer number of firearms in the community around the school. Johnson said officers recovered firearms near William Penn Senior High School last year. Then a student, Malaki Beady, was shot dead in Penn Park in March. 

A memorial of candles, balloons, photos and messages of love are displayed for Malaki Beady, 17, at Penn Park in York City, Saturday, March 26, 2022. Beady was shot and killed at the park on Wednesday. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Johnson said school police have a good rapport with the students, who sometimes tip the police with intel about where they think weapons are stashed in the area. But a lot of violence happens just off school grounds, he added.

“To and from’s the problem,” he said. 

Some students come armed on their way to and from school for their safety and stash their weapons nearby during school hours, Johnson said. Students prefer to be caught with a gun than without one, he said. 

“Just hearing that breaks my heart,” he said. 

More:One woman's quest to find lost dog takes a new turn

More:A new start for Suburban Memorial Gardens after cemetery fraud case

More:COVID still a presence in York County — even after Biden's comments

Johnson hopes that Blaze will be a deterrent.

Tyler said that if the dog finds at least one gun, it has paid for itself and saved at least one life. He added that officers aren’t trying to find people who stashed the weapons, just the weapons themselves. 

Berry said a veterinarian has already contacted the school and offered to cover the dog’s bills, leaving the school with one less financial concern. She added that the district may train another handler in case Tyler, who also serves in the military, is deployed.