SRO debate reveals who is leading the MN DFL

Typically, the chief executive assumes a de facto leadership role for their political party, providing direction and making tough calls that help maintain credibility with a broader electorate than extreme elements of the party would. 

The School Resource Officer (SRO) debate that has taken place in Minnesota the past couple of weeks, makes clear that extreme progressive legislators representing Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party are in firm control of the party leaders and Governor Walz.

This past legislative session, DFL leadership inserted language into their education bill that impacts law enforcement officers contracted as School Resource Officers (SROs), in their ability to use any level of force absent a clear threat to bodily harm or death. The issue has resulted in over 40 law enforcement agencies across the state pulling their SROs just as the school year began, as the ambiguous law prevents SROs from using necessary force and opens them to unnecessary criminal and civil liability.

Don’t be fooled by the narrative that this is about officers wanting cover to “choke” students. It’s not.

Traditional legislative process was ignored when it came to the SRO use of force language.  DFL leadership arrogantly failed to bring the issue before the public safety and judiciary committees which would have allowed law enforcement stakeholders an opportunity to add important context and concerns to the debate. Lacking any input from law enforcement, the language quietly passed into law.

In mid-August, as SROs were preparing to return to schools, the language was discovered.  The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association met with Attorney General Ellison seeking clarification of the impact of the language. The Attorney General issued a legal opinion that made clear that reasonable force was authorized only when bodily harm and death were at issue, but that questions about other use of force situations would be best asked of the Legislature.

As the school year opened, it was clear that Governor Walz was supportive of finding a solution to the issue the Legislature created. 

On September 5, the Governor made it clear he was open to calling a special session of the Legislature to amend the language and provide clarity to the situation, saying:

“I’m certainly open to anything that provides a solution to that, if that means the Legislature working it out.”

But on September 7, a group of 34 representatives and 10 senators, all representing urban areas in the state, and arguably representing the ultra-progressive wing of our Legislature, poured cold water on Governor Walz’s suggestion of a special session, signing a letter in opposition to any change in the new law or a special session to discuss it.

This progressive wing opposition is not only in conflict with the Governor, but key DFL leadership too, such as Senator Steve Cwodzinski, the Chair of the Senate Education Policy Committee, who stated last week:

“Everyone who has talked to me, they have my word.  We’re going to have a hearing on this and we’ll invite all the stakeholders – the chief of police, the SRO’s, the school administrators, counselors, everybody, because we want to hear and we want to get it right.”

They are arguably at odds with teachers as well, with a growing number of them expressing support for SROs remaining in schools. See the article written by my colleague Catrin Wigfall here.

Sadly, after the progressive wing spoke out, the Governor and other DFL leaders appear to have caved to the demands of the progressives. After business on Friday, September 8, Governor Walz quietly announced to Minnesota Public Radio that he was no longer interested in calling a special session.

This lack of leadership on the part of the Governor and our DFL legislative leaders to bring the progressive wing inline has ensured that we will enter the second full week of school in Minnesota with complete uncertainty about the role and use of SROs in schools across the state.

The situation could be easily resolved, yet the entire state remains held hostage by a few dozen progressive urban legislators, and feckless DFL leadership unable to bring them in line with the leadership’s wishes.

Minnesotans and Minnesota students deserve better.