More police departments withdraw SROs over changes to state law

More Minnesota police departments are pulling their officers from schools due to a state law that limits the force staff members can use to get unruly students under control.

Law enforcement organizations have raised concerns that the law will keep officers from physically intervening in dangerous situations or otherwise face legal consequences.

The Blaine City Council voted unanimously Thursday to suspend the police department’s school resource officer partnerships with the Anoka-Hennepin, Centennial and Spring Lake Park school districts following a request from Police Chief Brian Podany.

The Plymouth Police Department also announced it will remove its school resource officers from public schools but will continue to work with the Wayzata and Robbinsdale school districts in a different capacity.

Officials from the Alexandria and Faribault police departments also said Thursday they will no longer have SROs in place but will maintain a law enforcement presence in schools in the interest of student and staff safety.

The law in question prohibits any school staff members, including school resource officers, from using a “prone restraint” that would place a student in a face-down position or any sort of hold 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.”

“The way the law is written right now, we are unable to find a viable way for our officers to provide safe and effective service in the schools,” Plymouth Police Chief Erik Fadden wrote in a statement. “The law restricts school resource officers from effectively responding during incidents, which may leave students, staff, parents and officers vulnerable to undue harm.”

Earlier this month, Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a clarification that states “reasonable use of force” is still allowed to “prevent imminent bodily harm or death to the student or another.”

And while other questions were raised in his meeting with law enforcement advocacy groups, Ellison noted those issues would more appropriately be addressed by the Minnesota Legislature. On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers requested a special session on the matter.

Blaine Mayor Tim Sanders echoed those calls for a special session during Thursday morning’s City Council meeting.

“The liability that this legislation poses for our schools for our officers for our city is too high and there should be a special session,” Sanders said. “Nothing should be more important than our kids.”

The Blaine Police Department joins a growing list of agencies across the state that have halted their SRO programs, including the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, Coon Rapids Police Department, Moorhead Police Department and Redwood Falls Police Department.

Meanwhile, other agencies, such as the Lakeville and Rogers police departments, have decided to test the waters and continue to place SROs in schools.