Capitol Watch: Liberals have second thoughts on SRO fix
In last week’s legislative preview, we commented that the proposed fix to the SRO issue was on the right track, “but it remains to be seen if the defund-the-police crowd…
Misrepresentations of the facts surrounding the school resource officer (SRO) debate continue to occur in Minnesota nearly two weeks after most students have returned to class, and after dozens of law enforcement agencies have suspended their SRO programs.
During the past legislative session, DFL legislators amended education law pertaining to school staff and agent’s use of corporal punishment and reasonable force. The language change in the reasonable force section in effect prohibits law enforcement officers who are contracted as school resource officers (SROs) from using any amount of force with a student, absent imminent bodily harm or death. Such situations are arguably the majority of situations an SRO must deal with – property damage, drug use, trespass, etc.
This creates conflict with the use of force standard that already exists for law enforcement officers in Minnesota through MSS 609.06.
This also puts SROs in the absurd position of having to call another officer, who is not contracted as an SRO, to respond to the school in situations where it may be necessary to detain or restrain a student who is breaking the law, but not posing an imminent threat of bodily harm or death.
The conflict created, and the apparent refusal to resolve the conflict by DFL legislators and Governor Walz, has created a situation whereby 31 law enforcement agencies across the state have suspended their SRO programs and pulled their officers out of schools. That number increased this week after Governor Walz signaled last Friday, that he didn’t feel a special session of the Legislature was necessary. Once that announcement was made, both Woodbury and Brooklyn Park PD’s joined the nearly 30 other agencies that had already suspended their SRO contracts and pulled their officers. We should expect even more agencies to follow suit if the situation remains unresolved.
It has become a common refrain from many on the left that the amended language did not change the reasonable force standards for police assigned as SROs. This is a misrepresentation because it is true only for cases involving bodily harm or death. In the multitude of other situations that don’t involve bodily harm or death, it has changed the standard greatly by prohibiting any force altogether.
Multiple legal advisors have weighed in to confirm the change in standards and the conflict it created, and Attorney General Ellison acknowledged the conflict by advising law enforcement that absent bodily harm or death, no physical holds by SROs are authorized.
Another misrepresentation comes from the inordinate focus on the changes to the corporal punishment section of education law. There is actually very little in this section that is causing concern for law enforcement – absent some conflicts in the use of prone restraint. Yet, many on the left have argued that by objecting to the changes that prohibit chokes, prone restraint, and other restraints that restrict air flow, law enforcement has shown its desire to want to “choke” students or use restraints that “are even outlawed in prisons.”
These misrepresentations are ridiculous given chokes are already prohibited in the use of force standards for law enforcement in 606.06. Furthermore, the brief use of prone restraint to secure a prison inmate is actually specifically authorized in DOC policy, which recognizes the effectiveness and relative safety of the technique when applied properly.
Another misconception being peddled is that after the Attorney General issued his legal opinion about the effect of the language, the League of Minnesota Cities, which provides property and liability coverage for over 300 law enforcement agencies in the state, weighed in and agreed that the amended language did not create an issue. Actually, the League only advised the law enforcement agencies that the changes wouldn’t cause the league to drop coverage for SROs. A far cry from the narrative being floated.
The changes in education law around use of force by school resource officers has caused a conflict between existing use of force standards, and standards that would be applied in schools. The conflict was avoidable had the legislature taken the time to seek input from law enforcement during the committee process. It didn’t, and the poor process followed has created a situation in which unnecessary conflict exists.
Refusal to address the conflict, and continued misrepresentation of the issues has helped no one, especially our schools and the thousands of students now without the services of on-site school resource officers.
Governor Walz needs to lead by forming a bipartisan coalition of support to eliminate the conflict in law and call a special session of the Legislature to do just that.
If you agree, join our call to action, Back to Session, here.
Photo credit: Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune/AP
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