Luverne and Hills-Beaver Creek school districts will continue to be served by a school resource officer (SRO), according to the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
In recent weeks, as Minnesota schools opened for the 2023-24 school year, several law enforcement agencies withdrew the SROs working in the local school districts.
The agencies were at odds with recent legislation that changed how SROs can operate and use physical force in the course of their jobs.
In a press release from Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne), about 30 law enforcement agencies across the state removed the SRO working in the school districts.
They pointed to the new law as reason for the SRO removal.
“School resource officers play a vital role in the efforts to keep teachers, students and staff safe,” Weber said. “The removal of SROs from our schools is the latest consequence of hasty decisions made by Democrats this session.”
Weber joined state Republicans to discuss the new law, with SROs as part of the discussion, in a special session.
The law, passed as a portion of the larger education bill last legislative session, eliminated the use of prone restraints or physical holds, reverting back to original language that was already in statute.
In Weber’s legislative district, law enforcement officials in Redwood Falls, Mankato and Willmar withdrew SROs from the school districts.
Locally, law enforcement officials don’t interpret the restriction on physical holds that restrict a person’s ability to talk or breathe as unreasonable.
“We are in a different position,” said Rock County Sheriff Evan Verbrugge. “As a small community, agency and county, we know our kids and we know their parents. Not that we won’t have any issues that would require restraint, but we are different than larger communities.”
Use of restraint is not used every day locally, said SRO officer Jeff Stratton.
Stratton and Sheriff Verbrugge reviewed the new law and said elimination of prone restraints or physical holds can be interpreted differently, depending on school district and community size and if restraints are regularly used to defuse situations between people.
“As officers, we’ve always had some limitations — whether we are on the road, in the school or in the community,” Stratton said. “We just have to adopt and work with through it.”
Both Verbrugge and Stratton interpret the new law as, if necessary and under extreme circumstances, the use of physical holds and restraints can be still used by SRO officers as part of their jobs to keep everyone in school safe.
However, law enforcement is not the focus of the SRO in Luverne and Hills-Beaver Creek.
“We are there to assist the school districts. Not to be the disciplinarian,” Verbrugge said.
Despite short staffed, SRO stays in schools
Stratton began working in the Luverne and H-BC school districts last year.
Months into the new position, Stratton was reassigned to patrol, due to low deputy numbers in the sheriff’s office.
A recent deputy resignation had Verbrugge considering reassigning Stratton back to patrol.
However, existing deputies agreed to work overtime in order to keep Stratton in the schools.
All supported Stratton staying in his SRO position and covering the open deputy by working overtime for the next couple of months.
A new deputy started Monday, Sept. 11, and once through training, will assume the open patrol position full time.
“We thought it would be a disservice to take the SRO out of the school,” Verbrugge said.