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The City of Blaine Police Department provides contract policing services to the Anoka-Hennepin School District, Centennial School District, and the Spring Lake Park School District. These services include contractual school resource officers as well as contractual special event policing services for sporting events, school dances, and more. We have a long-standing tradition of working collaboratively with our schools to ensure a safe, secure learning environment.
Recently the Minnesota Legislature included various provisions in the education bill that affected any contractual officers working with the schools, including school resource officers. The new legislation limits a school resource and contractual officer’s ability to effectively respond to a variety of scenarios in a way that is consistent with not only law enforcement training but other Minnesota laws. These limits include new restrictions on use of force by contracted officers in school settings. We all agree that any use of force is not a desired outcome but there are circumstances where force is justified to ensure the safety of other students and educators. These laws have created confusion amongst law enforcement and education communities.
We have received considerable legal interpretation and input regarding these changes from various sources. There has been an opinion issued by the Minnesota Attorney General providing his opinion on one of the concerning matters. However, there are other issues with the legislation that remain outstanding, and the attorney general indicated that those items are more appropriately directed at the legislature.
As police chief, I support our officers maintaining their authority and duties as licensed peace officers for our State. This includes officers in our schools. They are frequently called upon in many situations and handle them based on their training as peace officers. Our educators have limitations in their ability or authority to handle certain situations, as they are not licensed officers. Educators should not be expected to put themselves in harm’s way. That is one of the many reasons we have officers in our schools. I have serious concerns about the impact of this legislation on not only the safety of our students and officers, but on our educators as well.
We have worked tirelessly in advocating for a change to this legislation, including a request for a legislative special session. I have been in contact with many other law enforcement, educational, and political leaders attempting to resolve this issue. I remain committed in working with our local elected officials to find a workable solution for all involved.
As a result of the issues, the Blaine Police Department has been advised by our legal counsel to suspend, terminate, or not renew any existing contracts currently in place with school districts for both SRO’s and other policing services we may provide to the schools. This recommendation and my concurring recommendation were presented to the Blaine City Council on August 31, 2023, where a resolution was passed in accordance with this recommendation.
Considering this new legislation and the subsequent legal opinions we have developed alternative policing methods for our local schools, with the goal to continue to provide a safe and healthy learning environment. The Blaine Police Department has been working with all three of our school districts to develop a plan to ensure school safety. During school hours, we will have additional officers working patrol who will be dedicated to responding to calls for service at the schools. These officers will also provide extra patrol and periodically walk through the school. However, they will not be officed at or contracted with the schools in any fashion. Our SRO’s have historically developed genuine and compassionate relationships with our students and the staff at our schools, beyond their roles of police officers. However, they also regularly need to exercise their police officer duties to ensure safe, non-disruptive learning environments. We hope that in the future we will be able to re-initiate our SRO program, but we cannot do that in good conscience with the current legislation.
In the interest of public safety and to ensure our officers can safely respond to any incident, we will provide dedicated officers independent of the school district at our own expense at significant school special events. These officers are not contracted officers of the school districts and will exercise their judgement and discretion simply as licensed peace officers.
If you feel strongly about this issue, I am asking for your assistance in reaching out to our elected leaders to emphasize the urgency and need to address these recent changes. I want to thank our Anoka-Hennepin, Centennial, and Spring Lake Park School Districts for their support and understanding with this unfortunate situation. As your police chief, I will continue to advocate for the safety of our youth and our schools.
Brian PodanyChief of Police, City of Blaine