The Minnesota State Capitol has a new security fence along its perimeter, although state officials continue to insist the building will not be walled off permanently from the public.
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said Monday that a new fence was installed over the weekend to replace an existing fence that was "put up rather hastily" during threats to the building amid the late-May 2020 civil unrest that followed George Floyd's death.
"We recognized structurally that we could do a better job," said Harrington, speaking at a weekly briefing by the joint Operation Safety Net law enforcement group assembled in response to the Hennepin County trial of Derek Chauvin.
The new fencing covers the "exact same" footprint as the previous barrier, Harrington said. He added Monday that security fences now also surround the St. Paul Police headquarters and the department's east and west district buildings, which also was done in Minneapolis ahead of Chauvin's trial.
"Both out of an abundance of caution, but also as a recognition that with the fencing securing these properties it requires less police and personnel to be on guard and to be on duty" at each location, Harrington said.
The state Department of Administration is tasked with making the call on whether to keep the Capitol fenced off. The department is receiving monthly consultation from Harrington and Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer, who oversees capitol security.
Asked Monday whether the new Capitol fence was installed with the intent of being a more permanent presence, Harrington said no.
"We think the fence is ugly," Harrington said. "We frankly like the environment of having a nonfenced 'People's House.' But in the weight of threats to burn it down or tear it up or to do other damage at the Minnesota State Capitol, we put the fence up and we continue to work with the Department of Admin assessing threats on a monthly basis."
Harrington said a recommendation to remove the fence would come "once we no long have any threats."
"We hope to see the fence come down as soon as possible," Harrington said.
Meanwhile, law enforcement leaders again reported no arrests linked to protests over Chauvin's trial and say no property damage or fires have occurred to date. Harrington said Monday that the joint operation continues to report no "imminent threat" to court proceedings or in St. Paul or Minneapolis.
Chief Deputy Tracey Martin of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office noted Monday that the first week of testimony "went as we anticipated," with emotional testimony in court and an uptick in demonstrations outside. Martin called on a continuation of peaceful protests while remaining mindful that the rate of positive COVID-19 cases was again rising in Minnesota.
"The trial is on schedule, and if we want justice to be served in a timely manner, we need to keep it that way," she said.
The multiphased Operation Safety Net is designed to boost law enforcement and National Guard presence around key events in the trial, such as last week's opening of testimony, and a further increased presence when a verdict is rendered.
Now in the second of four phases, the Minnesota National Guard recently added 100 troops to St. Paul.
Langer said Monday that "even though we are ready and we are poised across the state of Minnesota," the public would only begin to see a visible increase in security at locations such as the 140-acre Capitol complex "when we believe it is necessary and not before that point."
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755