Nearly 1,000 law enforcement officers and first responders have gone through specialized training in preparation for possible unrest spilling over into St. Paul during the first trial in George Floyd's death.
St. Paul Police Deputy Chief Stacy Murphy shared with the City Council on Wednesday the department's "robust" plan to "protect people, protect property and protect free speech" during the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Jury selection begins March 8.
An east metro response group comprising the St. Paul police and fire departments; the State Patrol; the National Guard; and the sheriff's offices of Ramsey, Washington and Dakota counties are partnering to protect residents including peaceful protesters, businesses and government buildings. Fencing is also being erected around law enforcement and government buildings to free up officers to respond to emergency calls if unrest ensues.
"This trial is going to draw people from across the country and possibly around the world," Murphy said. "We are very hopeful that they are going to remain peaceful, but we are planning for anything that may become not peaceful."
Murphy said protecting free speech is a top priority, but "we are going to be very clear that violent behavior, dangerous behavior, destructive-type behavior will not be tolerated."
Murphy avoided discussing specifics, but said St. Paul police and mutual aid law enforcement agencies have been training at the old Sears site near the State Capitol. Police have also been reaching out to business groups to discuss security measures including improving interior and exterior lighting, removing loose items that can be used to break windows, using security cameras and being prepared to share that footage with police when a crime occurs.
Council members asked a series of questions about protecting small businesses, avoiding racial profiling and the costs of fencing, but overall seemed receptive to the Police Department's advance preparations.
"Planning saves us money, saves us trauma," Council President Amy Brendmoen said.
"We agree and fully support people peacefully and passionately protesting for causes. We have seen over time anarchists and opportunists definitely riding the coattails of protesters," she said. "Knowing that these trials are a known series of events that we are expecting to create a reaction, it makes sense to me that we are planning and preparing around them."
In addition to law enforcement coordination, the City Council is considering banning people gathered at public assemblies from carrying a variety of items that can be used as weapons, including bricks, glass bottles and pointed wooden staffs that can be camouflaged as flagpoles. The council will take public comments on that ordinance next week.
Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037