“There was a legislative change and it came in under the education bill,” said Blaine police Chief Brian Podany. “It created new standards and it applied them to school resource officers. Not only did it put limitations on prone and compressive restraints, but it also said that force cannot be used unless someone is a threat to somebody’s physical well-being or death.”
Officers not working for the school still have the right to use force as necessary, and while it’s not something that happens every day Chief Podany says that one of Blaine’s school resource officers estimated physically breaking up a fight in school once or twice a week.
But it’s not just fights, there are some other situations that might require force.
“If you have a student who’s in the library maybe throwing computers around and they evacuate the library and they’re damaging things and we go in we try to de-escalate that. They not a threat of bodily harm or death to another person, but they are doing pretty severe property damage. The expectation is now on the law is now that the SRO doesn’t they don’t go hands-on to try to stop that. They call patrol officers to come in and do that.”
The chief says this would unnecessarily take more patrol officers off the street to respond to a situation where the SRO couldn’t act.
Blaine’s city attorney recommended that the city council cancel this year’s school contracts, writing in an opinion letter:
In light of these statutory restrictions placed on the ability of SROs and contracted school officers to intercede it is my recommendation that the city suspend terminate or non-renew any existing contracts currently in place with school districts for both SROs and any services that the police department May provide on behalf of the schools.
At the special city council meeting the council voted to suspend existing contracts with schools and not enter into new contracts.
Chief Podany says that the situation is unfortunate because these resource officers provide a variety of services in the schools.
“Our school resource officers are not just there to provide security in a fight. They are developing relationships with kids they are in classrooms doing education. They’re doing so many other things. Those physical altercations and those physical interventions are a very small portion of what they do, but it is also a very risky part of what they do – probably the most risky part, and we have to get that right.”
So now the police department is working with the schools to figure out some way to have a presence and offer some safety services in or around the buildings.
“I want the kids out there to know and I want the families out there to know that we care about their safety, and we’re trying to do other things to protect their children, and even protect the staff in the in the school environment. But, we also have to ensure that we still have staff to do that who aren’t threatened with their jobs or threatened with their safety or criminal charges if something doesn’t go well,” said Chief Podany.