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DPS prepared for protests, potential violence ahead of Inauguration Day

Commissioner John Harrington says there "are few known active threats" to the Minnesota State Capitol.

There will be an increased law enforcement presence in St. Paul following the storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and protests in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) said in a letter to legislators this week

Security at the Minnesota State Capitol has increased since Wednesday afternoon, with the Minnesota State Patrol saying "there has been and will be an increased presence" of state troopers at the Capitol, which is closed to the public due to COVID-19 and still has a chain-link fence surrounding it following the death of George Floyd on May 25. 

Meanwhile, DPS Commissioner John Harrington, who spoke Friday morning to MPR News' Cathy Wurzer, said the agency has been working with its community partners to prepare for the possibility of additional protests in the coming weeks, saying he's "very concerned" violence could flare up again before Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

"We've been tracking protests that their public rhetoric ... has been increasingly violent, including the last protest at the Capitol," Harrington said.

Pro-Trump supporters on Wednesday afternoon gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol and the governor's mansion with KARE 11 reporting at one point there were several hundred people at the Capitol, some brandishing symbols representing white supremacism and the QAnon conspiracy cult. 

There were people protesting who made statements about wanting to storm the Capitol, but there were no active attempts to get inside the building, Harrington told Wurzer and said in a letter to legislators about plans for a "continued increase" of law enforcement at the Capitol. 

"Clearly that sets off alarms for me that we could see people with the same kind of criminal intent that we saw at the United States Capitol," Harrington told Wurzer. 

Officials are tracking "several protests" that are scheduled to happen in the Twin Cities "over the next few days," Harrington said, adding that "We're ready for this."

DPS has been working with the St. Paul Police Department, Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, and others to put together a "robust team." Harrington believes they've moved enough people with the right training and equipment into place to appropriately respond if needed. 

"Unfortunately we've had lots of practice of protecting the Capitol and responding to fairly large protests over the course of 2020, and it does not appear that's going to stop in the short-term," Harrington said. 

Law enforcement's presence at the state Capitol has been increasing since the summer due to continued protests there and outside of the governor's residence in St. Paul.

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Harrington told Wurzer DPS had been "increasing our security position over the course of several weeks," noting they knew about local protests on Jan. 6, so they had moved in a "significant number" of additional state troopers and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers to "supplement the overnight crew to make sure the Capitol was secure." 

In a letter to lawmakers, DPS said in the immediate future there will be a "continued increase" of state troopers and Minnesota DNR conservation officers, noting this plan is "preventative in nature as there are few known active threats to the state Capitol at this time."

"The State Patrol will continue in this posture as needed, based upon what we learn about upcoming protests, rallies and events at the Capitol complex and surrounding area," the letter adds. 

Wednesday's protests in Minnesota and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol happened a day after Minnesota lawmakers returned to St. Paul for the 2021 legislative session.

In the Capitol complex there is tighter security, including more Capitol security staff and greater emphasis on having politicians and staff having their IDs visible, with Harrington noting several "alarms" have been triggered by new legislators who saw people in their spaces whom they didn't recognize.

The Capitol is currently closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We've set a good tone of safety and security without this being an impediment to the people's business being done at the Capitol," Harrington told Wurzer. 

To keep lawmakers and staff safe, DPS is working with Capitol security and legislative leaders to address security concerns expressed by elected officials regarding protests at the state Capitol and at their homes, Harrington explained to Wurzer. 

In the letter, Harrington addressed these concerns, stating DPS is aware that at some protests at legislator's homes last weekend groups were seen carrying guns.

He also noted that some groups have communicated plans to protest local judges, state constitutional officers and state legislators, adding DPS has been in contact with "all chief law enforcement in the state to ensure they are aware of the increasing likelihood of this kind of activity and to let them know" DPS is tracking it.

Meanwhile, Harrington in the letter to lawmakers encouraged them to "carefully consider the effect of our rhetoric" saying "as we saw yesterday, words do matter."

"The State Capitol and surrounding complex remains a safe place in which to work and visit," Harrington said. "The calls to action by elected leaders can and have had substantial consequences and can change that safe environment in an instant."

He said it's up to state leaders to "call out language or activity that endorses or encourages illegal or destructive behavior. 

"We simply cannot stand by – and certainly not participate – while some choose to instigate violence or ignore law and order in our state and nation," Harrington wrote. 

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