Duval county schools have new ‘tool’ to detect firearms on campus

Maverick is his name and his sense of smell is incredibly unique. So much so, the German Shepard is the only firearms detection canine in all of Northeast Florida.

The 2-year-old dog and his handler, Officer Joe Baker, demonstrated Maverick’s innate ability to find a weapon hidden in one of 3 backpacks placed in a classroom at Riverside high school.

He successfully discovered a Glock 17, a nine-millimeter gun hidden in a backpack hanging on the back of a classroom chair during our demonstration.

The K-9 has been taught to smell gun oil and gunpowder, able to detect as little as two ounces of gunpowder. Duval county school police department Lt. Amber Gazdick, describes Maverick’s incredible ability by comparing his sense of smell to detecting the ingredients in spaghetti sauce.

“So you have tomatoes of course, your garlic, your bell peppers, your onions, basil, your oregano,” she explained. “Maverick can break that down to the last, tiniest piece of garlic that can be thrown in there. That’s what makes him amazing. He can smell each individual item. He can smell it all combined, but then he can break it down and know exactly each item that’s in there.”

Lt. Gazdick said Maverick can find a gun, even a single bullet hidden anywhere. “Maverick smells the individual creases and seams of objects where an odor would come through. Even in the locker, he could smell the seams and the slits in the bottoms and tops and the odor that would come out of there,” she said.

Maverick is trained to detect a firearm, bullet, or magazine through clothing, metal objects, locked containers, book bags, bathroom porcelain sinks, and vehicles, to name a few.

Lt. Gazdick said Maverick will be used to conduct searches at all middle and high schools in Duval County public schools. “We’re going to use him for random searches, multiple times a day at different locations,” she said.

“If we do receive a call for service, that will take priority over the random search. If we do get a school that we are getting to have a lot of specific issues as far as guns or gun threats, K9 Maverick and Officer Baker will be at that school more than the rest,” she explained.

The K-9 will be used as part of the ‘Officer Friendly’ program within public elementary schools in the district.

Lt. Gazdick said if a student has a dog allergy or fear, there is a policy in place to address that concern, while still conducting searches. “There is nothing to be concerned about with Maverick, she said. “He doesn’t even bark. He is very silent and friendly who only cares about doing his job.”

The Duval County school police department is also training a dog to detect narcotics on school campuses. Lt. Gazdick said eventually she would like to add a bomb detection K-9 and emotional support K-9 to the police department’s staff.

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