A coalition of Minnesota public safety agencies and peacekeepers have come together to ensure that public safety will be maintained during the upcoming trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Chauvin has been charged in the death of George Floyd while in police custody last May, and his trial is set to begin the week of March 8. Preparations are already taking shape in downtown Minneapolis ahead of the trial.
Barricades have gone up around City Hall and other key locations as a precautionary measure to protect buildings and property in the event of violence and property damage as the trial proceeds.
A joint press conference was held Wednesday afternoon by the heads of several state and local public safety agencies during which they announced Operation Safety Net. Officials described the effort as a “unified command” operation that has been planning a response to the possibility of civil unrest during and after the trial.
The primary objective of the operation as stated in the press conference agenda and reiterated by Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who led the press conference, is to keep the community safe and “ensure everyone’s Constitutionally protected First Amendment right to gather and demonstrate peacefully.”
Chief Arradondo began the press conference by introducing the officials, in addition to himself, who were present and have been collaborating on the joint operation:
- Commissioner John Harrington, Minnesota Department of Public Safety
- Col. Matt Langer, Minnesota State Patrol
- Sheriff David Hutchinson, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office
- Gen. Shawn Manke, Minnesota National Guard
- Chief Eddie Frizell, Metro Transit Police
- Chief Bryan Tyner, Minneapolis Fire
- Director Rodmen Smith, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Enforcement
- Commander Scott Gerlicher, Minneapolis Police Department
- Chief Todd Axtell, St. Paul Police (not present)
The unified command operation, as described by Chief Arradondo, will allow the various agencies to cooperate, coordinate and communicate in order to respond metro- and region-wide to incidents if needed.
Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson said the main role of his office will be to maintain court security during the trial. Their job will be to protect the integrity of court proceedings and ensure the safety of the participants. Hutchinson said planning for the trial security has been in the works for months.
Hutchinson made a point to say that disruptions to the court proceedings would not be allowed. “If you cause harm, if you break things, burn things, hurt people [or] hurt people’s livelihood … you will go to jail,” he said.
Minnesota State Patrol Chief Col. Matt Langer presented a number of slides outlining Operation Safety Net’s mission of protecting non-violent protests and preventing large-scale violence. Langer detailed the various phases of the operation that will ramp up as jury selection begins and the trial starts.
Langer said the bulk of the operation’s resources will likely be deployed as the trial’s closing arguments commence and the verdict is presented. During that time, the Minnesota National Guard is expected to be deployed and will play a role in supporting local law enforcement to maintain peace.
Langer said resources will be utilized to prevent property destruction in key business corridors, protect critical infrastructure and government buildings, and ensure that core fire and EMS services remain viable.
Langer was asked about how they plan to deal with protesters who attempt to enter the freeway systems, as has happened in prior protests. Langer pointed out the obvious dangers of pedestrians entering freeways and the risks of injury and death. Langer said they plan to use a “strong message” to deter protesters from entering freeways, as well as strong preventive measures, which he didn’t detail.
Regarding any anticipated credible threats, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington stated that the operation has been coordinating intelligence nationally. He said they are working with federal, state, county and local partners to gather information about “extremist groups” that may be planning to come to Minnesota for the trial. Harrington said at this point, they “do not have any current actionable intelligence” about groups planning to come to Minnesota to disrupt the trial or cause disorder.
The unified command is being exercised out of an abundance of caution, Harrington said.
Harrington said they’ve been working on communication plans with businesses that were hit the hardest in last year’s riots, including grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and liquor stores. Harrington said their goal is to pass on credible threat information to those businesses if and when it’s learned so those businesses can be as prepared as possible.
Earlier in the day Mayor Jacob Frey led a related press conference that detailed the city’s plan to better communicate with residents as the trial moves forward. City Attorney Jim Rowader also gave a synopsis of how the trial would proceed and the timeline. Rowader said the process is expected to last into mid to late April. Cameras will be allowed in the courtroom and the trial proceedings will be livestreamed.
Officials at both press conferences stated that there would be robust daily briefings and regular communications to update the public and media with any new developments as the trial nears and throughout the proceedings.
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