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Hillsborough Police Chief: Negative Results from High School Drug Sweep Has Positive Impact

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Hillsborough Police Chief Darren Powell Credits: Rod Hirsch
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HILLSBOROUGH, NJ – Last week’s sweep of Hillsborough High School with drug-sniffing dogs was less about making arrests and more about putting students on notice and to discourage them from drug use, according to Police Chief Darren Powell.

Eight law enforcement agencies with drug-sniffing dogs targeted lockers, random classrooms, locker rooms and students’ cars in the parking lot, but no drugs were detected by the dogs during the 90-minute search.

No students came in direct contact with the dogs; students were moved from classrooms prior to the searches. Students were told to leave their book bags, pocketbooks and other personal items in the classrooms that were searched.

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“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Powell said. “It’s a crap shoot when you do something like this.”

The sweep was prompted by several reasons, according to Powell.

The decision to conduct the search was reached jointly with the township Board of Education and school officials, with final approval given by Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson, Powell said.

Without being specific, Powell said there have been a “few” incidents at the school involving drugs over the past few years; also, word trickles back to police from parents who hear from their children, he added.

Chatter on social media also led to the decision to conduct the search, according to Powell. The school has loosely been referred to as “Pillsborough High” and “Heroin High” on students’ walls and in chat rooms.

“If there is something going on we want to take an affirmative step to discourage it,” Powell said, “not to arrest and punish.”   

Students were not notified of the sweep until they arrived at school Friday morning.

School principal Karen Bingert posted a letter to parents on the school’s website as the search was being conducted.

"Illegal drugs have no place in a school setting, where students’ health and safety are the first priority, followed closely by establishing an environment that is conducive to learning," Bingert wrote. "In an effort to reinforce the importance of this drug-free climate, Hillsborough High School is currently participating in a drug sweep."

The letter was also signed by Dr. Jorden Schiff, schools superintendent and Powell.

"More importantly, this is being done to very clearly indicate that such a search may happen at any time as a definitive message that drugs have no place at HHS and as a deterrent for bringing drugs on campus in the future. The school has participated in similar sweeps in the past and hopes that this process has the same beneficial outcomes as we have seen previously," Bingert added.

Classrooms were placed in a modified lockdown during the sweep; no one was allowed in the hallways. Classes resumed afterwards.

Hillsborough High School has four grade levels, freshmen-senior; enrollment is approximately 2,200 students.

"More importantly, this is being done to very clearly indicate that such a search may happen at any time as a definitive message that drugs have no place at HHS and as a deterrent for bringing drugs on campus in the future. The school has participated in similar sweeps in the past and hopes that this process has the same beneficial outcomes as we have seen previously," Bingert added.

Participating in the drug sweep were personnel and K9 units from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office; Somerset County Sheriff’s Office; New Jersey State Police; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bound Brook Police Department; Passaic County Sheriff’s Office; Morris County Sheriff’s Office and the Hazlet Police Department.

"Schools are microcosms of all society, and, as such, drugs can find their way into any school, just as they can into any family or workplace," Bingert said. "Within our curriculum, policies, and code of conduct are measures that are taken to prevent drug usage and when drugs have been discovered. There are also multiple support systems that exist within our school to help students lead drug-free lives," she continued. “This drug sweep is one more step that can be taken to keep drugs out of Hillsborough High School to the greatest extent possible."

Powell said he has been receiving phone calls from other school districts and police agencies interested in conducting similar searches.

“You may see other schools in other counties doing it,” Powell said.

He received only one call from a parent questioning the legality of the search; Powell said the search was conducted in accordance with State Police guidelines.

Powell also said that if the need arises, there may be more unannounced searches.

“As long as the school is on board, it’s an available tool to use,” Powell said. “We may consider doing it again.”

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