The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office has started regular patrols at the Hennepin County Medical Center following a series of violent incidents at the state's largest public hospital.

At least one deputy from the Sheriff's Office will be stationed at the HCMC Enforcement Unit all day, every day, said sheriff's spokeswoman Rebecca Gilbuena.

"The hospital administration felt it's prudent to move forward" with an armed law enforcement presence, said Sheriff Rich Stanek. "The bottom line is that they wanted a full-time law enforcement presence and now they have it."

He declined to say how many deputies would be assigned to the new unit or to specifically describe their mission.

The move has been welcomed by hospital officials, who have been shaken by a string of violent incidents in and near the hospital, including an August shooting in which a gunman opened fire at one of hospital's emergency room entrances. Nobody was hurt, but the Sheriff's Office subsequently increased patrols in the area.

Two weeks before that incident, the hospital initiated a lockdown after a report of a person with a gun. No gun was found and the hospital was reopened a few hours later.

Officials from the hospital and Sheriff's Office began discussing the new unit in the fall, according to a news release from the Sheriff's Office. The unit has been staffed since February.

HCMC spokeswoman Christine Hill said the law enforcement presence, which will supplement the hospital's 34-person unarmed security force, is one of several new safety initiatives. The hospital has also introduced an emergency alert system designed to notify the hospital community immediately of a shooting or severe weather situation.

Staff Writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.

Anne Millerbernd is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.