Program brings Savannah-Chatham police specialized units to Savannah High

By Michael Atkins

Textbooks have limitations, particularly when it comes to police work.

So Tuesday morning, about 60 students from Savannah High School's Law and Criminal Justice program ventured outside the classroom for up-close lessons on drug-sniffing police dogs and law-enforcement aboard patrol boats.

Savannah-Chatham police officers showed off night-vision goggles, wheeled up the mobile command center and flung a Frisbee across the schoolyard for a police dog to leap up and snag.

"This is awesome," remarked Arian Travieso, an 11th-grader who aims to be a SWAT officer someday. "I've seen a lot of friends succumb to drugs, and I want to do something about that."

The hour-long demonstration was part of a program called Quality Education through Student Tours, or QUEST.

Angie Lewis, principal of the School of Law and Criminal Justice, said Tuesday's tour was one among several around the district in disciplines that range from culinary arts to medicine.

"It keeps the kids interested," Lewis said. "They get to see something more than just paper and pencil, and it gives them an opportunity to see exactly what these professionals experience and go through every day."

The highlight of Tuesday's demonstration was a 3-year-old dog named Faust.

The brawny Belgian malinois whimpered like a pup as Officer Will Fernandez waved the Frisbee beyond its reach, then ferociously dashed out and clamped its jaws on the projectile.

Sgt. Greg Ernst, who supervises the K-9 unit, explained to the group the department's four dogs track down narcotics, suspects and evidence.

A handler and a dog "can search a building faster than 30 officers," Ernst said, adding the dogs distinguish people by scent rather than sight.

"If there's a suspect hidden in any sort of building, the dog will go in there and find him just by smelling out the human scent," Ernst said. "It really doesn't matter - house, school, boats, wooded areas."

By the end of Tuesday's demonstration, Travieso wasn't the only pupil with career plans.

"I didn't know there were actually police in the water," said Briana Oliver, a fellow 11th-grader with an interest in ballistics.

Added ninth-grader Ne'Hera Habersham: "I didn't know those dogs could jump so high."

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