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Pandemic Means Different Duties For CMS Police And Their Gun-Sniffing Dog

Nico, the CMS gun-sniffing dog, is rewarded with a toy after finding an unloaded gun in a book bag during a demonstration for news media in 2019.
Ann Doss Helms

It almost seems like another era when talk about keeping schools safe focused on guns and violence. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is one of two North Carolina districts with its own police force, and before the coronavirus, CMS beefed staffing up to 23 officers … or 25, depending on how you define it.

In 2019, after a fatal school shooting and a spate of other gun incidents, CMS brought on a dog trained to sniff out guns in high schools. That doubled the canine force.

"Gage is our narcotics canine and Nico is our gun-detection canine," CMS Police Chief Lisa Mangum says.

She says the role of her officers, human and canine, has changed since schools emptied of students in March.

CMS Police Chief Lisa Mangum

Elementary schools in CMS reopened earlier this month. But middle and high schools, where school resource officers are stationed, won’t resume in-person classes until January. Officers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and suburban police departments, who normally help fill those roles, have been temporarily reassigned.

The CMS officers have been working with meal distribution, providing security at Wi-Fi hotspots and helping schools with home visits, Mangum says.

"We also go and check, like if our teachers are not able to make contact with a student, then they’ll call us and ask us to make a check on the student at their residence, just to make sure that they’re OK or that they’re at the residence," she says.

The CMS police keep an eye on the district’s 176 schools and other properties, whether they’re full of students or not. She said school break-ins happen at about the same rate they did before the pandemic.

"They’re just going in the schools and walking around. And sometimes things are taken and sometimes things aren’t," she says.

As for Gage and Nico, Mangum says they’re training, keeping their certification up to date and occasionally helping other police departments find guns or drugs.

Even when older students come back second semester, the buildings will be far from full. Some students have opted for all-remote classes, and the rest are split into thirds.

"Any time you have a smaller number there’s going to be less incidents and less concerns," Mangum says. "But doesn’t mean those concerns aren’t there and it doesn’t mean anything terrible can’t happen."

But Mangum says her force is looking forward to crowded halls, sporting events and all the rituals of normal school, even if that means watching out for guns, drugs and other trouble. They all miss the interaction with students, she says.

By the way, the other North Carolina school district with its own police force is in Moore County, northwest of Fayetteville.

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