1. Archive

Confiscated scales tipped in favor of education

The next time a student at Land O'Lakes High School uses a balance scale in chemistry class, he may have a drug dealer to thank.

Hoping to put the tools of the drug trade to better use, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office plans to donate scales seized during drug arrests to the school district.

On Tuesday, the first three scales _ two balance scales and a small electronic scale _ were turned over to Sanders Elementary School and Land O'Lakes High School.

The move will certainly save the district money, but the symbolic message is more important than any dollar value, said Susan Glickman, assistant principal at Sanders.

"It's a significant gesture, whether it's $50 or $5," she said. "These are scales that have been used in an inappropriate way.

"We plan to use them the way they were intended to be used."

The Sheriff's Office confiscates scales as evidence in one of every three to four drug cases, said sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers. In a busy year, that could translate to 40 to 50 scales being donated to the schools, he said.

The school district spends between $100 and $120 for an average triple-beam scale. An electronic scale can cost hundreds of dollars.

Add it up and the economic impact to a cash-strapped school system is very real, said Max Ramos, principal at Land O'Lakes.

"Every little bit helps," he said. "Scales deteriorate over the years, like anything else. But this is also a very powerful message the scales of justice, I guess."

Confiscated from suspected drug dealers, the scales may have been used to measure cocaine, marijuana or other types of illegal drugs, said Lt. Billy Johnson.

Like other evidence, the scales would typically be destroyed once a case has gone to court, he said.

The Sheriff's Office has donated scales to the schools in previous years but now plans to do it in every case, Johnson said.

Tampa police have a similar policy and donated 40 scales to the Hillsborough County school system earlier this year.

"We don't see a huge number of them, but as we get them in, we want to turn them around into something more positive," Johnson said.

"It gets people's attention."