Lawmakers raise concerns about new law regarding school resource officers
The new limitations put on school resource officers (SROs) under a new state law on when force could be used, according to law enforcement, is leading some departments in Minnesota to end their programs.
The Moorhead Police Department is halting sending SROs back to local schools until a change is made to the law.
“The City of Moorhead’s insurance provider, the MN Chiefs of Police Association, MN Police and Peace Officers Association, and other officials have expressed concerns that the practical implications of the new law severely impact a School Resource Officer’s ability to intervene in physical altercations,” according to a news release.
“If my SROs are being reduced to being hall monitors, which is the same as a school employee, and can’t act on criminal behavior,” said Moorhead Police Chief Shannon Monroe. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Moorhead’s Chief said the way they interpret the new law is that a school resource officer can’t restrain a student unless there is imminent bodily harm, which means it couldn’t be used in situations such as disorderly conduct, trespassing or criminal damage to property.
Moorehead schools have had law enforcement in the hall for decades and their absence is bringing mixed emotions from parents.
“I don’t think it would make a difference if they were here or not,” Desiree Littleghost, a parent said.
On the other hand, another parent Katie Gast said she was shocked to hear the news.
“I do honestly hope that they figure something out and they get it taken care of so they can have [SROs] back in the school so we can feel a little bit more protected,” Gast said, adding, “For my kid’s safety.”
Moorhead parent Salina Artley said she hopes they’re back soon.
“It makes me wonder, if there is a gun threat, how long is it going to take for the police department to be on-site and actually take care of the issue, versus them having officers on school grounds at all times,” Artley said.
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.”
“It didn’t provide any clarification of any incidents that are less than responding to imminent bodily harm,” Chief Monroe said.
The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday that school resource officers won’t be in Andover Schools at the start of the school year, according to County Attorney Brad Johnson, due to the new law.
The new law in question was passed last session as part of the massive Education Policy Omnibus Bill that included a variety of issues.
“Our SROs will remain in the schools, despite knowing that the newly introduced law complicates things,” said Dakota County Sheriff Joe Leko.
Dakota County provides four deputies to schools, including Randolph High School, Dakota Ridge, Lebanon, and Alliance Education Centers.
“We feel the benefits of having an SRO there outweigh the added risk in this legislation,” Sheriff Leko said. “However, we are hoping the language is revisited and does not restrict our deputies’ statutory authority to use force as peace officers in a school setting.”
“Certainly, I understand the Moorhead Police Department and other police departments’ concerns about it, it does seem rather ambiguous,” said State Senator Robert J. Kupec, (DFL) Moorhead.
State Sen. Kupec added the law needs “to be reworded, or some clarification needs to come forward.”
“I think this law makes our kids, teachers, and schools less safe and it needs to be fixed,” said Republican State Representative Jeff Witte, who represents parts of Lakeville.
Witte has a background in law enforcement and spent time as a school resource officer.
“The unintended consequence is you are losing that relationship piece, you are losing that resource, you’re losing a connection the kids have to build trust and work with the SROs to keep their school safe,” Witte said.
Rep. Witte is calling for a special session, or an executive order from Governor Tim Walz to address the issue.
“MDE is working with partners to ensure SROs can effectively do their jobs to keep students, staff, and schools safe,” said Minnesota Department of Education Spokesperson, Kevin Burns. “We are also working with school districts to determine what additional information is needed for a successful start to the new school year.”
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to Governor Walz’s Office regarding the SRO issue but has not heard back as of Friday evening.