Northside principals call on Minneapolis schools, police to reinstate school officers

On the heels of a violent and tumultuous summer, the principals of three northside Minneapolis high schools are calling on Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Police Department to "reconsider your stances" on removing police officers from schools.

A week after the police killing of George Floyd, the MPS Board of Education voted unanimously to remove MPD school resource officers from district campuses. It joined a growing list of districts seeking to limit police presence and the criminalization of students in the wake of high-profile killings by police.

In an open letter published Friday on North News, the principals of North Community High, Patrick Henry High and the Harrison Education Center call the board’s effort "over-generalization, surface-level problem solving and short-sightedness."

“Your political game playing has contributed to escalated violence in our streets with no end in sight,” the letter says.

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Homicides in Minneapolis are up significantly over last year’s total, according to police data, and the victims include several teenagers. North Minneapolis has been hit particularly hard.

Mauri Friestleben, the principal of North Community High and one of the writers of the letter, said six of her students have been wounded by gunfire in recent months. One died.

Friestleben said the SRO at her school, who was also a coach and alumnus, was a key part of preventing those kinds of tragedies.

“In my community, if something bad happens and you have two detectives walk up to the front door of a house and they want to know if the people that live there will talk about what they saw or heard, their likelihood of talking to the police at that moment may not be very high,” said Friestleben, whose husband is a 30-year veteran of the police department. “But when you have an SRO in your school, there are conversations that are happening. There were things my SRO was finding out that nobody would have ever known.”

Friestleben said her school’s SRO was able to talk to witnesses away from the eyes of "bad guys” because the conversations happened in school. And she said the SRO could intervene if he heard a student was at risk of going down the wrong path.

Crime experts believe this kind of preventative work has been hobbled by the pandemic and could explain increased crime in cities across the United States this year.

But many also link the presence of police officers on campus with higher rates of school discipline, students entering the criminal justice system, and anxiety for students who have experienced trauma related to policing.

That’s likely one reason the school board seized on the movement to remove SROs this summer.

Friestleben said she and her colleagues appreciate that, but wish the conversation would have been more nuanced and met the complexity of her community’s relationship with law enforcement, instead of reacting to the moment.

“You took away from us something beautiful, in order to satisfy the appetite of somebody far away,” Friestleben said.

We reached out to MPS Board Chair Kim Ellison and have not yet heard back. We also asked the Minneapolis Police Department for a response. It sent a statement it released after the school board vote in June saying it “appreciated the opportunity to provide years of service” to the district, and that the relationships that were built were impactful not only for the students and staff, but for the officers.”