The newest School Resource Officer is happy to join Cambridge City Schools, at least that is what his wagging tail would indicate. Jota, a yellow lab, will be accompanying SRO Ben Harper this school year.
“We are excited about the newest addition to our district,” Cambridge City Schools Superintendent Dan Coffman said. “Jota will provide our students and staff with an additional layer of protection and will help our resource officers build a positive relationship with our students.”
Cambridge Police Captain and Cambridge School Board of Education President Dave Peoples agrees.
“When Superintendent Coffman pitched this idea to me, I was on board immediately,” Peoples said. “To me, it was more about the relationship building. This police dog will go a long way to help bridge the gap between students and cops and right now there is a divide, not necessarily in our community, but nationwide.
“If students can see a policeman as a normal person because he has a cute dog with him, that will make him more approachable and relatable to the students,” Peoples added.
Jota is a three-year old, single-purpose dog. He has been trained in narcotics detection only, while other service dogs may receive bite and apprehension and tracking trainings. Jota also seems excited about making friends with the students.
“He is very playful dog,” Harper said. “He was out at CATS Camp yesterday and did great all day. He let the kids pet him and interact with him. We expect him to get even more comfortable the more he is around the kids.”
Jota, who lives with Harper, is still learning obedience commands and, along with Harper, will continue to attend training classes through the Police K-9 Association. When given the appropriate command Jota will sniff for narcotics and indicate when he detects the possibility of illegal drugs.
During the summer, Jota is on patrol with Harper and can be called to a traffic stop to sniff a vehicle that may have narcotics on board. An indication from Jota gives probable cause for officers to search a vehicle.
The same procedure will be used in the school building with Jota sniffing lockers, vehicles in the parking lot, or other items, like backpacks, when commanded to do so by Harper. Jota also will help officers teach drug awareness and drug use prevention lessons to students in the classroom.
Both Peoples and Coffman agree that drugs are not a substantial problem in our schools.
“The safety of our children is a priority that we take seriously,” Coffman said. “While we do not believe there is a significant drug issue in Cambridge City Schools, we believe a proactive approach allows the district to address any concerns and maintain a safe learning environment for students, staff, and the community,”
“Having Jota here is a deterrent,” Peoples said. “Students are less likely to bring drugs to school because they fear getting caught.”
Bringing Jota on board truly has been a community effort and is another indication of the strong support the district receives from the community and the City of Cambridge.
The addition of Jota was made possible by a significant donation from the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio’s new Cause Connector giving site. Cause Connector is a charitable matchmaking site created to help more donors support local nonprofit projects in Appalachian Ohio.
Cambridge City School District is one of the first organizations selected to have a project featured on the new Cause Connector site.
A continuing partnership between the City of Cambridge and the School District secured the services of a second full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) last school year. The city is helping with the funding for the K-9 as well.
The Police Department provided a specially outfitted SUV for Harper and Jota to use and with the help of funding from Guernsey County Prosecutor Lindsey Donahue Angler, purchased a laptop and printer for the cruiser.
The Police K-9 Association supplied equipment like leashes, leads, a crate and food bowls to be used with Jota. Tractor Supply provides food for all the service dogs at the station.
“We certainly appreciate the FOA and those who contributed to the Cause Connectors program, the City of Cambridge, and all others who made this possible,” Coffman said. “This project will ultimately help the district and the community become a better destination for students and families, and to maintain quality and drug free environments. The addition of a K-9 can help protect our students from potential dangers.”