Brainerd reinstates police in schools amid distrust of AG’s legal opinion

Photo: Brainerd Police Department, Facebook

Brainerd to the list of cities nervously agreeing to reassign police officers to local schools, following a backlash over controversial legislation micromanaging officers’ options in restraining students when necessary. Police departments around the state pulled School Resource Officers (SROs) from dozens of schools at the start of the new academic year over concerns the change in the law further exposes individual officers to prosecution and liability.

Gov. Tim Walz refused to call a special legislative session to fix the problem, instead offering Attorney General Keith Ellison’s legal assurances the flawed law did not prevent police from doing what they have to do. After more than five weeks without an officer in the school district, the Brainerd City Council voted to resume the SRO program, despite reservations noted in the Dispatch.

City and school officials agreed in September to sever the contract after Police Chief John Davis told council members he was concerned about liability with the law change, which dealt with instances in which officers in the school can use reasonable force. But after Ellison’s clarification in late September, Davis said the law amendment earlier this year does not limit types of reasonable force used by school staff or public officers, which was the source of many of his concerns last month.

“This was not probably as perfect of a solution, and we were — as we all know — looking and hoping for a calling of a special session and changing the actual language,” Davis said Monday. “However, the opinion has satisfied our main concerns.”

Yet some questioned the wisdom of relying on the legal support of an attorney general hardly known as a friend of law enforcement.

“We’re weighing it against somebody’s word that hasn’t necessarily been the most honest,” said city councilor Michael O’Day. “…These kids are clearly safer with an SRO officer in there. We’ll see if the attorney general’s word is worth its weight.”

The lone elected official to vote against the return of a SRO to Brainerd High School fears it puts officers at a serious legal risk.

{City councilor Jeff] Czeczok said he’s still worried about liability, even with the clarification.

“I’m really concerned about putting an officer in there and having that liability, which could ruin a person’s career,” he said. “… I think we’re making a hasty decision, and I’ll be voting no against this because we have to be concerned about our liability.”

Czeczok said there’s a lot of hatred against peace officers, and he doesn’t want to see the law exploited and an officer’s career ruined because of it.

The skeptical city councilor also put the police chief on the spot.

“Now chief, you’re telling me you’re comfortable with this, with our personnel that works for the city of Brainerd, you’re comfortable putting them in the school district with the way th law is written, based on everything that’s happened,” said Czeczok before losing in a 6-to-1 vote.

Something most participants appeared to agree on, along with other critics statewide. One of the first orders of business in the 2024 legislative session must be revoking or rewriting the latest law jeopardizing police and those in need of protection.