The events that unfolded last summer following the death of George Floyd were unlike any we had ever experienced in Minnesota. Many citizens exercised their free speech rights, held vigils and peacefully marched. Unfortunately, some individuals resorted to criminal acts of violence, vandalism, arson and looting.
With the eyes of the world once again focusing on our community, I'm confident both Hennepin County and Minnesota are better prepared for the incredible balancing act we're about to face when jury selection begins next week in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Law enforcement will be under an intense microscope as we work hard to preserve the First Amendment rights of those who wish to protest while, at the same time, fulfilling our mission of protecting property, ensuring public safety and guaranteeing the sanctity of the judicial process.
To do all of this, we need strong partnerships, sound planning and support from the public. We have the first two. And I am committed to earning the third through our approach and, ultimately, our actions before, during and after the trial.
When it comes to planning, law enforcement agencies at the county, state and local levels have established a joint working group called Operation Safety Net (OSN). OSN is comprised of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, the Minneapolis Police Department, the St. Paul Police Department, the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, Metro Transit Police, the Minnesota State Patrol, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Minnesota National Guard.
Over the past several months, we have been planning for every aspect of this trial. The planning process has included a thorough review of last summer's unrest here and across the country to determine what we can do better — including talking to community members.
We will work together in the weeks ahead to provide the appropriate level of security and a measured response to any and all incidents that are detrimental to public safety or pose a direct threat to a safe environment conducive to peaceful demonstrations.
Individuals who are inciting violence and promoting criminal activity are increasingly using technology to organize and carry out these criminal acts. In response, our Crime Information Sharing and Analysis Unit (CISA), along with support from the FBI, allow us to better keep up with where crimes are occurring and get a better handle on whether a group is violent or not. This is important information that assists officers and deputies on the street in an effort to prevent, or quickly respond to, any violence and criminal activity in our communities.
In the end, we expect that protests will be impassioned and emotional. We just don't want them to be destructive or deadly. People who want to turn a peaceful protest into a riot and are intent on breaking the law do not have the right to deprive peaceful protesters of their right to freedom of speech and their right to assemble.
Violence will not be tolerated. If you cause harm, you will be arrested. If you break things, burn things or hurt people, you can expect to go to jail.
The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office oversees court security. Our deputies are highly trained and experienced. By respecting the process, the public interest is served by allowing the trial to be held without disruption.
Please let our deputies do their jobs so all those who serve the court can do theirs.
David P. Hutchinson is Hennepin County sheriff.