Brevard K-9, handler helping students learn to speak out
Tips to Speakout hotline increase more than 200 percent
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Cpl. Kirk Geweniger and his 3-year-old yellow Labrador, Sonic, have become a popular sight in Brevard County Schools this year.
When News 6 caught up with the duo, they were not only entertaining students at Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School but also teaching the importance of speaking out and reporting unsafe behavior to authorities.
"To let (students) know that you can come talk to us, we're not unapproachable," Geweniger said. "The dog helps a lot with that, Sonic is great at that, he creates that bond."
The Brevard County Sheriff's Office is one of the few law enforcement agencies that have a K-9 team dedicated to school district security.
Geweniger and Sonic travel to all 86-plus schools in the county.
Sometimes, their visits are scheduled. Sometimes, they are random. Sometimes, they search for drugs.
At Space Coast Jr/Sr. High School they demonstrate how Sonic finds drugs by allowing him to sniff out a banned substance on a Sheriff's Office employee.
Sonic sits by the deputy and starts to bark.
"What he's doing is he's alerting me by sitting down to let me know there are drugs," Geweniger said to the auditorium filled with students and faculty members.
When Geweniger and Sonic started working together more than two years ago, Geweniger says he noticed a trend.
"I noticed as soon as I started bringing Sonic into the schools a lot of the students would come up to me and give me information," he said. Now the two also teach about the Speakout Program.
The P3 tips app on smartphones connects to the Speakout Hotline which is manned around the clock.
It's where students can report information anonymously, anything from weapons on campus to someone vaping in the restroom.
Geweniger and Sonic are getting results for the program in a big way, according to Barb Bergin, the executive director of Speakout Hotline and its sister program Crimeline.
"This interaction with the students and dog has been fantastic," Bergin said.
According to Bergin, since Kirk and Sonic started touring schools, tips have increased more than 200 percent.
"There has been a tremendous increase in tips coming out of Brevard County with this," Bergin said.
Sheriff Wayne Ivey applauded their success.
"When you look at our app usage, we're at the top of the usage levels when you compare it to everybody else in Central Florida," he said. "I think that speaks volumes."
It's about keeping schools safe and building relationships with students at a young age, Geweniger said.
"All these school resource officers and the deputies on the street, we do care," he said. "And we want to make a difference in our community, and that's what I try to talk to them about."
Several cities and counties have contacted the Brevard County Sheriff's Office asking for assistance setting up a similar program in their agencies, according to Geweniger.
Students can reach the Speakout Hotline at 1-800-423-TIPS.
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