Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Bullshit-Sniffing Media Hounds Finally Bark (Make That Hound, Singular)

The Chronicle’s Lisa Gray had a good---dare we say hard-hitting---follow-up Sunday on the arrest of the 59-year-old art teacher at Roberts Elementary last month after a drug-sniffing dog deployed by the Houston school district purportedly got a whiff of contraband in the woman’s car (a column that presumably led to this news story in Wednesday’s newspaper). A subsequent tossing of the teacher’s vehicle allegedly turned up two entire tablets of Xanax, and she could not produce a prescription for their use. (These pills---what us knowledgeable on-the-street types refer to as “bars”---are about as long as a thumbnail and maybe a fifth as wide.) This major victory in the War on Drugs was attended by a clutch of police patrol cars and at least one helicopter from a local TV news outfit---y’know, the whole Rice University-area neighborhood around Roberts was hoppin’, like the SWAT team had cornered an armed murder suspect in a backyard.

As Gray reported, the woman is a dedicated educator loved by students and parents, and the Roberts community has rallied behind her. From what we understand the teacher in no way appeared impaired in the classroom when the dope hound allegedly sniffed out the non-prescribed pharmaceuticals in her vehicle (while its human handlers up and down the line, from the superintendent and trustees to the cop who held the leash, figuratively relieved themselves all over the 4th Amendment*) and initially was so unperturbed she was willing just to hand over her keys because she was reluctant to leave the class she was conducting.

Her arrest came as the school district continued its superintendent-ordered “sweep” of unattended vehicles in its campus parking lots, an overwrought reaction to the hysteria over a supposed widespread drug problem among school district employees that was vigorously fanned by the local media (we noticed that Channel 11, our default television news provider, had posted on its Web site an action-packed “raw feed” of the teacher’s departure from the courtroom after her first appearance before a judge last month.) The numbers say otherwise: according to the Chronicle’s count, 15 district employees had been arrested this school year prior to the sweep, and we believe that maybe three have been snagged since. Almost 30,000 people work for the district, more than 12,000 of them teachers. We’re way too high to do the arithmetic, and we never passed a TAKS exam, but we’d wager that the minuscule percentage of employees arrested (never mind actually convicted) is much lower than what would result if, say, one of the local TV stations turned a dope-sniffing dog loose in its employee parking lot.

It’s not like the drug-sniffing dog racket is an infallible science, either. We’d be interested in knowing how many “false positives” the district has notched---that is, when the pooch zeroes in on a vehicle and the owner consents to a search that turns up nothing. We were told of one school where the dog lit on four vehicles. A small amount of marijuana was turned up in one belonging to a staff employee, but nothing was found in the other three. Yet the owners of those vehicles were summoned out of their classes and subjected to unnecessary humiliation, not to mention a few moments of bowel-loosening dread.

Something worse than temporary humiliation hangs over the Roberts teacher, but in most respects she’s luckier than the average district employee who’s been pinched. She’s white (no doubt much to the relief of district higher-ups---no racial profiling by the drug-sniffing dog!) and has a top-notch defense lawyer and the support of an affluent and influential group of parents. In other words, she has the wherewithal to get her story out in the media, and that can't hurt. We’re pretty sure most of these advantages are not available to the kitchen worker at school district headquarters arrested on the first day of the sweep.

*Happens everyday, so who cares, right?


Robert Boyd said...

The first comment on the article was "Somebody should fill Abe Saavedra's windshield washers with bong water."

Alan said...

Said drug dog was being led through the student parking lot at Bellaire High today. Bellaire High.