Jacksonville High School starts day one with a new K9 friend
Aug. 12—JACKSONVILLE — The hallways of Jacksonville High School looked a lot like those of any other school on Thursday morning, as streams of children streamed through them on their way to classrooms at the start of a new Year.
Only this year have these rooms received a furry addition in the form of a lop-eared K9 officer named “Flint”.
Officer Flint and his human counterpart, Officer Jeremy Penny, started their first day at JHS with the dog eager to get to work. Early in the morning, the 4-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer pulled his master along the rows of lockers as the students settled into their seats.
“Officer Flint is a proactive measure for us,” said director Dr Russ Waits. “Constantly sweeping areas of the school – because he’s with us all the time – gives us a daily approach to preventing bad things from happening.”
The chocolate brown pup may look super cute and cuddly, but when he’s on the school grounds, he’s a highly trained officer of the law. Flint can detect all types of weapons and explosives.
“It can detect anything from a spent shell casing to your high-end explosives,” Penny said.
When asked what Flint would do if he smelled a weapon or explosive substance, Penny said the dog would sit in front of where he detected it – a signal to his handler to check that spot. .
Penny’s trainer, Jesica Fleming, said Flint was trained on all types of weapons in all conditions – old, new, dirty or recently cleaned. Fleming noted that while Flint has completed her training, Penny still has a few weeks to complete her certification to get Flint up and running.
Just having Flint on school grounds is a great deterrent to students who might try to bring in an unacceptable item or substance, according to Fleming, who is an independent teacher-training contractor. dogs for law enforcement in the Jacksonville area. Seeing the dog there and knowing what it can do can greatly influence students’ actions, she said.
Because Flint is a trained service dog, students won’t be able to pet him as they would like. Instead, Flint goes home with Penny at the end of the day, and that’s when Flint has his free time — cuddles included.
“When he walks the halls, he works like me. Any kind of petting or anything is a distraction for him, and of course we obviously don’t want him to miss anything,” said Penny. “When he wears this vest, just like us, he works.”
However, the security guard has an office inside the school that functions as a lounging area for man and beast.
“A lot of teachers sort of said he was their emotional therapy for the day,” Penny said.
Although petting outside her office is not allowed, Penny said Flint’s presence can help bridge the gap between a school resource officer and the children.
“He’s a really good communication beginner,” Penny said. “Often, police officers in full uniform are not very accessible.”
According to Penny, there’s nothing like a furry puppy to break down barriers.
Penny has 17 years of experience with the Jacksonville Police Department, eight of which were with the Calhoun County Drugs and Violent Crimes Task Force. He said he always wanted to be the high school resource manager because the schools in the city of Jacksonville are where his children go to school.
Flint has worked at JPD for three years.
“We are blessed that the Jacksonville City Schools and the Jacksonville Police Department have recognized the value of being proactive, so we are very lucky and blessed to have Flint with us,” Waits said.
The animal’s training is focused on weapons detection rather than drugs or vaping substances like some other K9s are, which Waits says was more important to him in the end.
“We know pretty much every day, on some level, that we’re looking for weapons. Obviously that’s the main thing we don’t want to get in,” Waits said.