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Emily Welker, Published January 17 2014

West Fargo to consider ordinance strengthening law on entering schools unannounced

WEST FARGO – City officials here are considering a new law that would allow police to arrest anyone up to four hours after they enter public school grounds uninvited and unannounced.

The change to city ordinance comes in the wake of controversy over a story in which a Valley News Live TV reporter entered schools in West Fargo, Fargo and Moorhead unannounced in a hidden-camera report about what the station’s news director described as an investigation on holes in school safety.

Current city ordinances here and in Fargo already make it a misdemeanor for visitors to enter a public school without registering at the school’s office. Minnesota’s law is similar.

The new West Fargo ordinance would retain the misdemeanor charge but would allow an officer to take the trespasser into custody based on probable cause.

It would apply even if the officer didn’t see the suspect commit the crime, said City Administrator Jim Brownlee.

The change to the ordinance was drafted by West Fargo police, he said.

Charges still pending

In the Dec. 11 Valley News Live story, reporter Mellaney Moore is shown entering schools in West Fargo, Fargo and Moorhead.

All three city police departments have forwarded their cases to prosecutors for possible criminal charges, although none have been filed.

West Fargo police said the decision on whether to pursue criminal charges would be left up to district officials. A phone message for school officials was not returned Friday.

In a similar case, a high school in Kirkwood, Mo., was put on lockdown Thursday after a reporter for a local TV news affiliate walked into the building in an attempt to test the school’s security protocol.

The West Fargo City Commission is expected to have a first reading of the proposed ordinance Monday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541