NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Local K-9 trainers searched down a long, dark hallway of lockers at the vacant Huntington Middle School in Newport News on Thursday.
While they were training for school drug and explosive sweeps, some said the K-9s can be used more proactively in a school setting.
"The shooting problem that we're having in schools and the drug problem that we're having in schools, [these K-9s] would pretty much eliminate both of those problems," said James Overton, the development director of the K-9 training organization American K-9 Interdiction.
Overton and AK9I organized Thursday's exercises. A variety of K-9 handlers from around Hampton Roads trained their dogs at the school alongside members of AK9I's training classes.
Handlers like Overton believe the dogs could work more proactively in schools each day, instead of simply reacting to active shooter and bomb threat situations.
"As the students are coming in, you would have the dogs walk through the students that are carrying in the backpacks," Overton said. "If someone had a firearm or explosive inside of their bag, the dog would be able to locate that bag before they got into the school."
He said K-9s are also a phenomenal deterrent for on-campus crime, often forcing students to keep drugs and guns away from school grounds.
Overton said if schools are willing and governments find funding, K-9 teams could be the universal solution to school safety improvements that many people around the country yearn for.
"It's a bipartisan solution because you're not trying to put firearms or armed security guards in schools; you're putting a K-9 team in a school, which is an extremely valid deterrent," he said.
Denes Szabo, a K-9 handler with the Virginia State Police, said the training exercises at the Newport News school helps make his dog Gunner more effective during future school searches.
"Now he's more used to that environment, the lockers and school rooms," Szabo said.