On the morning of Friday, October 12, 2007, Steinert High School in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, was flooded by police with five drug-sniffing dogs accompanied by a prosecutor and school officials. The whole student body was arrested by being detained in various classrooms and forced to wait while the search of their lockers verified that each student was innocent of drug possession. Every locker got searched. And every student was under technical arrest until cleared of drug possession, approaching unlawful imprisonment.
The school sent us a letter home with our son saying it was a “…pre-planned search of student lockers using trained narcotics detections dogs.” It continued, “As per our ongoing protocol of ensuring a safe and orderly drug-free environment…this search was a component of our program to deter illegal activity.” There was no reasonable suspicion of any drug activity. It seems that this search was itself an illegal activity because it was a warrantless dragnet, pure and simple.
This incident is proof to parents that the government has little common sense when it comes to our children. They teach about human rights, the U.S. Constitution and tolerance, but do not practice what they preach.
Many of the kids are saying that Steinert H.S. teachers, counselors and principal are not about education, just prosecution of the ‘War on Drugs.’ There are over 1,625 students and guess what percentage of them were discovered to have had drugs or marijuana in their lockers? Zero. Nada, as in not one. For this, the Hamilton Township police and school administration alienated the trust of all 1,625 students, many of whom now feel that students are automatically guilty until proven otherwise. The kids know that they would never do the same thing to their teachers’ lockers, nor publicly owned offices of the U.S. Congress, the White House and all federal agencies to weed out all those who seem to be definitely on drugs.
The Hamilton School District and Police Department stand on the point that the students’ lockers are public property and thus subject to search at any time. However, how far can a police agency go into warrantless searches of over a thousand people’s effects without probable cause? Why must students have no expectation of privacy of their personal effects when given no choice but to use school lockers for their burdensome books, note pads, lunches, clothing and other paraphernalia? And why are other public employees storage spaces not routinely searched while teachers, office clerks and even Congressional representatives are held under lock down?
If you go to a restaurant and place your parka on a public coat rack, can a police officer search every coat on the rack, go inside your zippered pockets and indict you for any contraband that he might find? Or do you still have rights to privacy in your personal effects no matter where you set them temporarily?
Whether these searches were legal or not, what kind of message are they sending to the whole student body? That they are guilty until proven innocent and that their freedoms are secondary to elites advancing their political careers by posturing themselves as effectively dealing with juvenile drug problems. There is no juvenile drug problem, just a problem in the judgment of out-of-touch-with-reality Hamilton, New Jersey, community leaders.
Unsaid is that this tactic of arresting whole student bodies and searching every locker is a pseudo-terrorist tactic designed to frighten kids into not bringing controlled substances to school. In the War on Terrorism, even local government has become a neo-terrorist operation, indulging in situational ethics where the end justifies whatever means it chooses.
In Hamilton Township, New Jersey, a drug-free environment is a rights-free environment. From the failed and embarrassing search at Steinert High School, Hamilton’s "zero tolerance" proves its zero intelligence.
October 23, 2007
Jack Duggan [send him mail] lives in Hamilton, New Jersey with his family.