The SRO debate still requires a legislative solution

In yet another attempt to avoid a special session of the Legislature, Governor Walz and Attorney General Ellison met Wednesday with a group of DFL legislators and representatives of several law enforcement groups to broker an end to the debate over use of force language haphazardly placed into education law this past session.

The attempt failed.

The meeting, as well as an updated legal opinion from the Attorney General, failed to provide any real clarity to the concerns of law enforcement. As of Wednesday, the number of law enforcement agencies that had pulled their School Resource Officers (SROs) from schools had increased to 40.

This represents a significant public safety issue for Minnesotans, and a political issue for Governor Walz — an issue which was created by poor legislative process at the hands of DFL leadership this past session.

Failure to include key stakeholders in the discussion led to poorly worded law that restricts SROs from using any level of force to restrain a student, absent the threat of bodily harm or death.

No “assurances” from the Attorney General can change that poor wording.

Attorney General Ellison released an updated legal opinion dated 9/20/23 (his second on the issue since 8/22), which once again focused on clarity to a question about corporal punishment posed by Education Commissioner Jett, not on questions and concerns about use of force posed by law enforcement.

Attorney General Ellison continued to suggest that the new language didn’t change the definition of reasonable force, while ignoring the fact that the new language specifically prohibits any force unless “it is necessary under the circumstances to restrain a student to prevent bodily harm or death…” (emphasis added).

Attorney General Ellison stated,

“Of course, what force is ‘reasonable’ is not defined in law and is determined on a case-by-case basis.”

He then quoted case law that made clear the determination of whether an act was a

“‘…reasonable use of force is a fact issue to be answered by the jury.’” 

That amounts to a rather chilling statement to law enforcement, which has little trust in the assurances provided by, or intentions of this Attorney General or several progressive county attorneys.

It’s not a coincidence that most of the 40 law enforcement agencies that have pulled their SROs come from metro area where progressive prosecutors who ran on police reform platforms serve. Law enforcement in these areas have little faith these prosecutors would make a fair charging decision involving an officer’s use of force in a school, especially one involving circumstances poorly defined in the new education law.

Despite the efforts to resolve the questions and concerns of law enforcement by the Governor and Attorney General, the last line in Attorney General Ellison’s latest legal opinion sums it up best:

“….there may be room for additional clarification from the Legislature.”

Governor Walz must broker a solution by working with a bi-partisan group of legislators committed to amending the law in special session by removing the ambiguity and providing clear use of force authorization to our law enforcement officers working in our schools.