Police officers association says ‘urgent legislative fix’ to SRO law needed

Police officers association says ‘urgent legislative fix’ to SRO law needed

Police officers association says ‘urgent legislative fix’ to SRO law needed

A week after appearing to be more satisfied with the state’s new law affecting school resource officer (SRO) conduct, Minnesota law enforcement leaders are again calling for lawmakers to change the law.

Brian Peters, the executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), sent another letter to the organization’s members on Friday, advising “caution for our rank-and-file members serving in contracted assignments in a school setting until the law is revised with a legislative fix.”

Last Friday, MPPOA General Counsel Imran Ali wrote members a letter saying Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s latest opinion on the SRO law is “decisive” and “binding,” pending any overruling by a court.

However, the group’s apparent satisfaction with the clarification was short-lived, with their sentiment changing after Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty provided her interpretation of the law to police chiefs this week.

While Ellison said the law doesn’t restrict SROs’ ability to use “reasonable force” in their duties as peace officers, including using physical contact to intervene in nonviolent situations or placing a student under arrest, Moriarty said she believes the law only allows reasonable force “to prevent when there is a risk of bodily harm or death.”

“The new guidance from Hennepin County Attorney Moriarty makes it crystal clear the only way to adequately address this issue and return school resource officers to school is an urgent legislative fix,” Peters wrote in the letter on Friday.

Peters said MPPOA is “disappointed” that Moriarty’s opinion conflicts with Ellison’s, adding that the organization knows it could mean the county attorneys in every other Minnesota county could have a different position, too. Because of that, the organization is again calling for state lawmakers to provide more clarity.

While the organization said state legislative leaders have pledged to take up the issue at the start of the new session in February, Peters’ call for an “urgent legislative fix” suggests the group again wants a special session, something Gov. Tim Walz and top DFL lawmakers have been hesitant to call, instead believing the matter can be worked out with meetings with local leaders.

However, now a month into the new school year, the issue remains.

“I was very optimistic [and] I know, a lot of my peer chiefs and neighboring agencies here were as well,” Chief Erik Fadden with the Plymouth Police Department (PPD) said.

Fadden, like dozens of other departments, pulled his SROs before the school year started — he says it’s an odd feeling not to have his officers inside the five schools their department covers after having a presence for more than 30 years.

“It doesn’t feel right to me,” Fadden said, adding the fact that this taking away from the relationship building that’s so important to the SRO program is one of his biggest frustrations.

He said last week, following the AG’s second opinion on the law change, he was feeling optimistic about getting his officers back into schools — he feels differently now after Moriarty issued her interpretation.

“It doesn’t give me enough faith [that there] is not still going to be that confusion if an incident does happen in a school,” Fadden said about not reinstating his SROs.

As for what he thinks needs to happen moving forward, Fadden feels it’s up to the legislature

“I’m really hoping that during the next legislative session, there are some changes to this,” he said. “To create some clarity that will hold officers to the same standard of reasonable force, that they are already held to.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has reached out to the governor’s office for comment on MPPOA’s letter Friday afternoon and will update this story if a response is received.