Police groups anticipate clarity on SRO law during legislative session

School resource officer concerns

School resource officer concerns

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has learned many Minnesota law enforcement agencies do not plan to immediately reinstate their school resource officers, despite an updated opinion from the state attorney general.

Attorney General Keith Ellison issued an additional “clarification” Wednesday to the recent change in state law regarding the restraints SROs can use on unruly students.

The opinion states school resource officers “may use force as reasonably necessary to carry out official duties.”

The attorney general noted that SROs are not restricted from physical contact with nonviolent students but they should avoid prone, or face-down, restraints or physical holds that restrict breathing unless there’s an “imminent threat of bodily harm.”

The opinion was followed by a closed-door meeting with the governor and various groups representing law enforcement Wednesday night, including the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association and the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to all of the groups involved for an update on what happened during the meeting.

The executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association provided this response:

“The meeting yesterday was productive as we discussed the Attorney General Opinion and a path forward. Everyone present acknowledged that the concerns with the new law were legitimate and the apprehensions about how to keep the schools safe were valid due to the ambiguous language.

“It was also agreed that public safety should not, and cannot, be a partisan issue, as our protectors are here to protect and serve everyone equally. We received confirmation that this topic will be brought up at the start of the next session and a true resolution will be sought. Law enforcement associations are hopeful that any future law changes that impact the safety of the communities we serve will include in depth discussions with our protectors.

“While we were disappointed at the lack of stakeholder input on this significant law, we are optimistic that we may have bi-partisan support working towards the fix during the next legislative session.  The supplemental AGO provides a more stable foundation for deputies and officers to operate within the schools by defining the guidance for their use of force options that will remain under MSS 609.06.  Since that has always been the guiding law, it makes it easier for law enforcement to understand, and follow, the rules and their training.

“We trust that this law will be addressed at the beginning of the next legislative session, and we look forward to a return of Minnesota’s SRO’s so that positive relationships and constructive interactions can continue within our schools!”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked if the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association plans to update its guidance to sheriff’s offices as a result of the meeting and recommend that SROs return to schools, to which we received this response:

“As an association, the MSA supports the elected sheriffs in a wide variety of ways, but they must make their own operational decisions. As independent elected officials, they must take the given information and decide what plan works best for them based on the individual needs and circumstances for each county.

“We have presented the facts of the meeting and the AGO and offered that I do feel law enforcement has clearer direction now. We remain optimistic that the legislature will fix this as soon as possible during the next session though.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS also checked in with more than 30 local law enforcement agencies that have pulled their SROs from schools in the past month, following confusion over the language of the law.

The following departments responded to our request, saying their SROs will not return to schools at this time until they receive further guidance:

  • Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office
  • Blaine Police Department
  • Brooklyn Park Police Department
  • Apple Valley Police Department
  • Woodbury Police Department
  • Plymouth Police Department
  • Coon Rapids Police Department
  • Eagan Police Department
  • Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office
  • Anoka County Sheriff’s Office

Representatives from the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, which communicates with police departments about how to implement law changes, were also at Wednesday night’s meeting with the governor.

“Our attorneys and other staff members are actively working to develop new guidance, training materials, and sample scenarios to help our members understand the law and be able to assess and manage any potential risk. We hope to issue this new guidance sometime next week, barring any unforeseen circumstances,” LMCIT’s executive director wrote to members following the attorney general’s updated opinion.

In a statement, Gov. Tim Walz expressed his optimism following the meeting and said the issue will be taken up during next year’s legislative session.

“Last night I had a productive meeting with law enforcement and legislative leaders where we made significant progress in coming to an agreement that will help ensure school safety,” Walz wrote. “Law enforcement leaders came to the Attorney General with valid questions, and I am grateful for the Attorney General’s binding opinion clarifying that school resource officers can continue to do their jobs effectively. I am committed to further addressing this issue next legislative session and eager to see school resource officers return to schools as soon as possible.”