Walz: 'Let's keep our kids safe' as consensus is reached in SRO debate

Man in sportscoat and jeans at event
Gov. Tim Walz addressed a variety of topics at the MinnPost Festival in Minneapolis on Saturday, September 23, 2023.
Estelle Timar-Wilcox for MPR News

Gov. Tim Walz said Saturday that he expects law enforcement agencies to start reinstating school resource officers next week, after weeks of debate over the use of force in Minnesota schools.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Keith Ellison released a revised opinion on the legislation last spring that revised state law regarding the use of force in schools. The opinion states that the changed law “does not limit the types of reasonable force that may be used by school staff and agents to prevent bodily harm or death.”

About 40 law enforcement agencies had made plans to pull their officers out of schools over the revised law. They said that a change in the wording could prevent them from intervening when students posed a threat. The new opinion from Ellison settles some of those questions with its conclusion that officers can use force.

Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association General Counsel Imran Ali praised the new guidance in a letter to members on Friday.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

“MPPOA thanks Governor Walz, the Attorney General, and legislative leaders for their work towards finding a temporary solution to return SROs back to Minnesota schools,” the letter reads.

Walz reiterated the Attorney General’s conclusion in an interview with MinnPost on Saturday.

“What we’re saying is, you can use all appropriate force in the protection of life that you need to, and you don’t need to wait until you’re punched or something like that,” Walz said.

Legislators behind the law said they intended to protect students from excessive force, preventing the use of restraints that can block breathing. But police organizations and critics said that the law would stop officers from intervening if a student was creating a dangerous situation.

During the MinnPost Festival in Minneapolis, Walz said he’s focused on clarifying the language of the law so agencies will reinstitute their student resource officers.

“Law enforcement, student rights activists, teachers, parents, we're all aligned on this: let's keep our kids safe,” Walz said. “Let's use student resource officers if that's what's wanted in our community, and let's make sure we don't put them in a position where they don't feel like they can't intervene if they need to.”

State and local officials and law enforcement met on Wednesday night to discuss steps towards bringing resource officers back to schools.

The peace officer association said that the opinion from Ellison is a temporary step in the right direction, but not a permanent solution. Law enforcement is asking the legislature to revisit the issue in next year’s session and codify the rules.

“If this law is unable to be fixed statutorily next session, law enforcement agencies will need to re-evaluate their relationships with school districts and their SRO programs in the longterm,” Ali wrote in the letter.