2 Minnesota law enforcement agencies halt SRO programs over new law
A new law regarding the types of restraints school resource officers (SROs) are allowed to use is continuing to create concerns.
A letter obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Thursday indicates that concerns over the law have led the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office to end its SRO program for five schools in Andover.
In the letter, written by Anoka County Attorney Brad Johnson to Andover’s city administrator and the operations lead at Anoka-Hennepin Schools, Johnson says the agreement between the sheriff’s office, school district and city of Andover has been successful but the new law creates “too many significant risks, liabilities, and uncertainties” for all involved.
“Unfortunately for all of us, after considering the consequences of the new laws passed this year that incorporated language about SROs from the Governor’s 2023 Education Policy bill, I have now had to advise our Sheriff that renewal of the annual (Memorandum of Understanding) is untenable,” Johnson writes in the letter.
“Really puts them in a bind in terms of when they can use force. Really put the officers who are working on behalf of the school in a little bit of a perilous situation,” added Keith Ternes, a spokesperson for the County Attorney’s Office.
The past SRO agreement covered Andover High School, Oak View Middle School, Andover Elementary, Crooked Lake Elementary and Rum River Elementary School.
Anoka-Hennepin Schools confirmed the development, saying it will continue working with all area law enforcement partners to find a solution and ensure the safety of students and staff.
The district also has partnerships with police in Anoka, Blaine, Brooklyn Park, Champlin and Coon Rapids to place an SRO at each high school and middle school in those cities.
Ternes said that Anoka County officials will continue to value safety for students.
‘We all continue to be very passionate and have some very strong feelings about maintaining a very safe and secure learning environment,” he said.
“Not renewing that memorandum of understanding, but still finding new and maybe different ways to provide that law enforcement presence in and around the schools is really what we’re in search of,” Ternes continued.
Law enforcement officials have raised concerns about the new rules in recent weeks, with some police chiefs saying they put officers in difficult, uncertain spots and other leaders saying they’re evaluating whether or not to continue their SRO programs.
The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association asked the governor to clarify the law, which prohibits school resources officers from “using prone restraint and comprehensive restraint on the head, neck and across most of the torso.” The organization also met with the state’s attorney general.
Earlier this week, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued an opinion, saying SROs can still use “reasonable force” to prevent bodily harm or death, and the new law doesn’t change the definition of “reasonable force.”
However, law enforcement officials have continued to express concerns with the law.
Johnson wrote that the law treats SROs as district employees and restricts their abilities to use their law enforcement training in situations, despite the SROs being obligated to intervene in dynamic situations.
“Under these new laws, SROs (and district personnel) apparently now have far less ability to use reasonable and necessary force than both a parent and a patrol officer,” he states in the letter.
“In essence, the school resource officers simply are not allowed to or are under some real restrictions in terms of how they might resolve a violent situation within the school,” Ternes added.
Johnson concludes his letter by saying he and the sheriff hope to continue to work collaboratively with the school district and city and will be working to find a solution with lawmakers.
Moorhead PD puts SRO program on hold
Moorhead also paused its school resource officer program Thursday “until a solution is identified” and noted that discussions are ongoing at state and local levels on that work.
The department later clarified its position, saying that several law enforcement officials have expressed concerns over the law impacting an SRO intervening in physical altercations.
Moorhead Police Department also stated that its decision has nothing to do with the portion of the law that would prohibit SROs from using force that “restricts or impairs a pupil’s ability to breathe; restricts or impairs a pupil’s ability to communicate distress; places pressure or weight on a pupil’s head, throat, neck, chest, lungs, sternum, diaphragm, back, or abdomen; or results in straddling a pupil’s torso.”
“That is NOT the part of the law that has led to the suspension of the SRO program; the Moorhead Police Department supports that section of the law,” the department wrote on Facebook.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has reached out to Moorhead Police Department for comment.