New state law prompts removal of school resource officers

A new state law designed to restrict the use of force on the part of school resource officers prompted multiple law enforcement agencies to pull their resource officers from campuses. According to the new statute, SROs are unable to place students in prone restraint or restrict a student’s ability to communicate distress, among multiple other use-of-force restrictions.

A statement issued last week from Attorney General Keith Ellison said SROs could use force so long as it was deemed reasonable which caused some agencies to allow SROs to return to schools. Many still have to announce if they will be returning their SROs.

The Mankato area school district is among those who have not yet decided if they will return SROs after Ellison’s statement, according to the Free Press.

While the language in the law in question does state that it does not preclude the use of reasonable force, many heads of law enforcement agencies felt that the law was ambiguous.

“It [the law] needed clarification because it contradicted use of force statutes that all of us use right now, that officers have been trained to use, that has been used for years,” said Blue Earth County Sheriff Jeff Wersal.

The ambiguity in the law prompted many Republicans and law enforcement groups to call for a special session to clarify the language.

When asked about the law and calls for a special session, Minnesota State Senator Nick Frentz said “In my opinion, the ambiguity warrants clarification.”

However, Democratic governor Tim Walz stated a special session on the law is not necessary.

A school fight at Mankato West involving 10 students prompted calls for SROs to return to school and added further urgency to the controversy.

Nashawn Williams’ son was badly injured in said fight.

“Once you take that presence out of the school, everybody feels like they can run around because they know the teachers can’t do anything,” Nashawn Williams is quoted as saying to KTSP news.

Safety is one reason SROs are seen as important to have in schools.

“People that are going to cause harm in a school do not target schools that have an armed trained law enforcement professional in it. Not that it’s never happened, but if you’re going to cause harm to a school, you’re going to look for one that does not have a cop in it versus one that does,” said Wersal.

The law in question was passed over concerns about inappropriate use of force by SROs, as well as general concerns regarding controversial incidents of police misconduct.

“I think the legislation is in response to the last few years of situations in Minnesota where peace officers had used unreasonable force in general. The George Floyd incident comes to mind,” said Dr. Carl Lafata.

Lafata said SROs in schools haven’t always had good histories. 

“I could tell you story after story, a quick Google search will bring them up, of school resource officers that have assaulted students unnecessarily or school resource officers who had illicit affairs with students at the school. One of my former departments in Michigan had a school resource officer who pointed their firearm at a high school student as a joke and wound up being convicted of a misdemeanor,” said Lafata.

When asked about the issue, Wersal challenged the perception that the use of force on students by SROs was a frequent occurrence.

“A legislature asked how many times a week the deputy was using force on students at the school. That’s how often they think it happens. Maybe in some parts of the state, but not here. I asked the deputy [assigned to St. Claire] and he said he has not yet used what he would consider force in seven years at the school,” said Wersal.

Both Wersal and Lafata agreed there are benefits to having SROs in addition to preventing violence

“The biggest benefit would be the relationship that kids develop with law enforcement, and vice versa, the relationship law enforcement develops with kids,” said Wersal.

“School resource officers in a perfect world would humanize the police, they would be a resource for students, faculty and staff. They would free up resources in the field so that they would handle all the calls on school grounds,” said Lafata. “I say that in a perfect world. When school resource officers work well, they work very well. When they don’t, they don’t.”

(Courtesy Flickr)

Write to Jeremy Redline at

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