School resource officers in MPS under scrutiny

Resource officers are facing criticism after a recent viral video of an arrest.

Ryan Faircloth

In recent months, school police officers have been under scrutiny by local activists, who claim their presence hurts students.

Last week, the Minneapolis City Council chose to extend a public school contract for school resource officers into next summer. The decision comes on the heels of a viral video, released late last month, showing the rough arrest of a 16-year-old at a St. Paul high school.

Mica Grimm, a founder of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, said the incident shown in the video may make students feel less safe around SROs in their schools.

“I don’t really believe we need school resource officers in the way that they are used at schools now, particularly when we have officers, like what happened in St. Paul, that are extremely violent,” she said.

ISAIAH Education Equity Leader Sue Budd said SROs in schools contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” noting that schools need to use more apt alternatives.

“I think all teachers need to be trained in de-escalation tactics,” Grimm said. “I think they need to have counselors … trained in conflict management.”

Budd agreed with Grimm’s sentiments, saying schools need more counselors and training so SROs can be phased out.

But Rebecca Gagnon, a Minneapolis Public Schools board member, said she found the school-to-prison pipeline analogy “horrific.”

Gagnon said a “pipeline” misrepresents data on arrests, and opponents of SROs often fail to provide alternative solutions.

Minneapolis Public Schools’  SRO contract is a way to foster a relationship between schools and Minneapolis police, she said. MPS was right to implement SROs, she said, adding arrests and police interference dropped by more than 60 percent over the last five years.

“We’ve radically reduced police intervention in the schools and incidents in the school, so it seems to have worked,” Gagnon said.

But Budd said she has yet to see statistics supporting Gagnon’s claim.

“A lot of the narrative, or a lot of the stories you hear about how dangerous it is to not have police in schools, and how when you stop suspending kids your violence escalates, doesn’t [show] … in the statistics that I’ve seen,” she said. 

And Grimm said she still doesn’t approve of SROs, in part due to her own experiences.

“I had SROs in my school, and they were scary,” she said. “They were intimidating; nobody liked them. … They, in my opinion, abused their power.”

Still, Gagnon said the officers don’t only work with students in school, adding they try to strengthen relationships with students. In addition, they attend games and dances and work as bike cops in their students’ neighborhoods in the summer, she said. 

“Having more police on the streets that know how to do youth work, that know how to deal with youth, that’s contributed to reducing negative youth interactions with police,” Gagnon said. 

If SROs were abandoned for alternatives like trained counselors, she said she worries police involvement and incidents would rise again.

“We need to be able to create a different type of relationship with the police, then,” Gagnon said. “Once we remove the SROs, people are going to start calling the police again.”

Gagnon said schools need to be sure their alternatives will work before they stop using SROs.

“We’re happy to change, but what are we going to do instead?” she said. “We can’t do nothing.”