A protest has erupted over dealing with protesters at the Republic National Convention in St. Paul this summer.

A plan to limit Minneapolis police officers' use of Taser guns, chemical irritant spray, helmets and shields prompted the Police Federation to fire off a letter to police and city officials on both sides of the Mississippi River.

"We believe that the mission of the officers being deployed on the front lines is primarily to keep the peace rather than to serve as hospitality attendants," said federation President John Delmonico in the letter he expects to send today.

"As you know, mere presence is the very first rung on the use of force continuum. If protesters remain peaceful merely by the presence of officers equipped with helmets and shields, officers will not have to even move to verbal confrontation let alone more confrontational options."

Officers have been told that Tasers and chemical sprays will be limited to reduce the risk of abuse, Delmonico said.

Those on the "front lines" will be prohibited from wearing helmets and carrying riot shields because such gear would appear "intimidating, he said.

Minneapolis Deputy Chief Robert Allen said he wouldn't publicly discuss the department's convention preparation. The federation is publicizing the letter "prematurely before having all the facts," he said.

"We would be happy to discuss this with anyone from the federation or any of the hundred officers involved in the planning so far," Allen said.

In the letter, Delmonico said officers should receive training if the department administration is worried they may abuse the use of Tasers or irritant spray.

Disallowing those tools places officers in the situation of having to escalate to blunt instruments or deadly force if the protesters become violent, he said.

Delmonico also questioned how officers on bicycles could do their job safely because of the limited amount of equipment they can carry. And communication would be hampered if officers weren't allowed to carry portable radios, which he said has been expressed as part of the convention plan.

"Please advise us as to whether our understanding as to the plans outlined is accurate and, if so, how it is you believe that officer safety will not be compromised," Delmonico said.

Jeremy Hanson, spokesman for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, said the mayor will take into consideration the concerns raised by the federation, but couldn't discuss specific plans for the convention. Tom Walsh, St. Paul police department spokesman, had no comment on the letter.

St. Paul's Police Federation and police management met Thursday to discuss many of the issues in the letter, federation President Dave Titus said. Right now, their primary issue is having an adequate number of licensed officers at the convention, he said.

"I believe our administration also holds that as a priority," he said.

Officers who are trained and have the ability to use irritant spray or a Taser should be allowed to use such tools during the convention, Titus said.

"At this point, I believe our administration would agree with me," he said. "In good faith, we are working through these issues."

David Chanen • 612-673-4465