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With Minneapolis police overwhelmed by protesters and rioters following the murder of George Floyd, Minnesota sent its own law enforcements officers from across the state into the Twin Cities metro to serve as a stabilizing support presence.

But the state-backed buttressing was late to act, and the first days and nights plagued by poor communication amongst agencies, an opaque chain of command, and inconsistent rules of engagement that resulted in law enforcement groups "basically working against each other.”

That's according to an independent third-party review of the State of Minnesota's response to the civil unrest in Minneapolis from May 25-June 3 in 2020, in the immediate aftermath of Floyd's recorded killing. The 129-page review, conducted by Wilder Research, was released publicly Thursday, The goal was to evaluate what the State of Minnesota did and did not do well in its response to the unfolding civil unrest, while also providing recommendations to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to improve the response to any similar future incidents.

Related [March 8]: Damning report slams MPD, Frey, city leaders for response to George Floyd riots

Acknowledging the "unprecedented" scale of the unrest, the report's authors state it is "clear that state and local agencies need to be prepared" if something similar happens again.

"These events were unplanned and ultimately over-extended multiple local and state agencies to end the civil unrest," the report reads. "Further, the situation led the Minnesota State Patrol and other state agencies to act in ways that are outside of their specific jurisdiction or, in the case of the Minnesota National Guard, perform duties beyond their normal training."

Delayed response, poor communication

One of the state's first steps in its response was to set up a Multi-Agency Command Center (referred to as MACC) at TCF Bank Stadium. The MACC served as the communications hub, facilitating coordination between state agencies (The State Patrol, DNR conservation officers, the Minnesota National Guard) and local law enforcement (such as the Minneapolis Police Department). 

Once fully established, the MACC executed its mission well, the review found. 

But all of this was put into motion too late.

Even though state troopers were sent to the Twin Cities metro the day on Tuesday, May 26 (the first state law enforcement officers on the scene), the MACC wasn't set up until May 29 — the day after the 3rd Precinct was abandoned, looted and set ablaze. On May 30, the state officially took the lead on the response, and a significant overnight show of force marked the start of a downturn in the unrest.

MACC leadership told Wilder Research an earlier activation could have led to better outcomes.

There were jurisdictional questions, however. The report notes that, traditionally, state forces serve in a support role and follow the direction of local law enforcement agencies. (For example, state statutes specify the State Patrol "cannot impose themselves on a local jurisdiction without an invitation or request," the report's authors wrote.)

Some officials believe the state was waiting to see if the City of Minneapolis would quell the unrest with its own agencies in the lead. It was only when that didn't happen that the state opted for a heavier hand.

Also plaguing the initial law enforcement response was poor communication, further hampered by a scattershot chain of command and inconsistent response strategies among agencies. According to the report:

  • The law enforcement agencies on the ground often followed different training and rules of engagement.
  • "On several occasions," responding officers didn't differentiate between lawful protestors and unlawful rioters.
  • Agencies didn't consistently follow officer accountability standards.
  • Poor operational logistics meant officers and supplies weren't getting where they needed to be, and weren't on time.

The report also accuses the Minneapolis Police Department of "insufficient" engagement with the MACC.

While MACC operated out of TCF Bank Stadium, MPD set up an emergency operations center in the city's Northeast neighborhood, only sending a couple of police representatives to the MACC. The police chief, Medaria Arradondo, was "notably absent," according to the report.

"This led to several challenges, including the initial use of competing law enforcement strategies (e.g., MPD used crowd dispersal tactics while State Patrol simultaneously used contain and arrest tactics)," the report reads.

Said one state official: "We would be trying to implement containment, and then [MPD] would come through and just disperse everybody. So we were basically working against each other.” 

One MACC leader told the report's authors that MPD's use of its own emergency operations center "couldn't possibly have demonstrated a more significant breakdown in command and control of an event like that," adding: 

"And to everyone at the MACC, it was very clear that Minneapolis had no interest in being a good partner.”

All of this led to a "reluctance" to share resources and work together. 

The leadership of Frey, Arradondo and MPD were widely criticized in a separate report into Minneapolis' response to the unrest commissioned by the city, which was released earlier in March.

Key recommendations

The delayed, uncoordinated early response to the civil unrest is just one aspect of the wide-ranging report. In total, Wilder offered dozens of recommendations for the state it says will improve its response to civil unrest and help it prevent, prepare for and recover from future large-scale demonstrations like those seen after Floyd was killed.

The report encourages the state to have a plan, coordinate better with other law enforcement agencies, and improve communication between not just police police, but also protesters, community members and the news media.

Among the specific recommendations for DPS detailed in the 129-page report:

  • Improve coordination when multiple agencies are responding to civil unrest by establishing a “clear chain of command” as early as possible to successfully mobilize a multi-agency response; developing a “unified multi-agency incident management system” before incidents of civil unrest or “as quickly as possible once civil unrest begins” so every agency that’s involved understands the plan and what’s going on; and developing a unified communication system between the involved agencies so information can be shared “seamlessly”
  • Ask the Minnesota Legislature for money to implement multi-agency emergency response and mutual aid training with federal and local agencies to simulate challenges law enforcement face during civil unrest. The report says “realistic training” will increase the likelihood multi-agency guidelines and protocols are implemented effectively during a real incident.
  • The Minnesota Legislature should determine DPS’ role in working with the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Traning (POST Board), so they can develop and implement a statewide standard for crowd management and use of force so in instances of civil unrest, all agencies that respond will follow the same policies and procedures.
  • Law enforcement should use a tiered response to address civil unrest so it’s not using riot gear and less lethal munitions when police aren’t “under imminent threat and intend to use these weapons against the crowd,” adding that law enforcement best practices in times of civil unrest should be to keep the peace rather than enforce all laws, tolerating some disruption.
  • Differentiate peaceful protests from those who are breaking the law. The report says public order training and a “better understanding of crowd dynamics” would help police do this effectively and facilitate peaceful protests. It also recommends deciding conditions and procedures for arresting demonstrators ahead of time; using different tactics and avoiding restrictive tactics when possible to defuse conflict and facilitate peaceful protests; and communicating with protesters about public order tactics prior to implementing them, including on social media with DPS told to use multiple social media sites to convey messages to the public.
  • Plan ahead for large-scale events and provide mass arrest training to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.
  • Improve coordination and collaboration between law enforcement and state agencies by providing training for local agencies on how to request help from the state and Minnesota National Guard, as well as state agencies proactively offering support to local police as a “decision-making partner” to help avoid escalation of events that would then require “greater intervention by the state.”
  • Improve systems to coordinate between law enforcement, fire departments and EMS to prioritize security for fire and EMS so they can respond to critical incidents.

The report also calls for the state to work with local officials to improve communication with the public and media by using a variety of methods to communicate critical information, including expanding the use of social media to engage the public; developing unified and coordinated messaging as to not spread misinformation; implementing a “joint information center” and designating a “well-trained” public information officer; and have “clear and open communication” when the situation involves communities that have “historically had negative interactions with law enforcement.”

Wilder’s recommendations also include changes activists have been demanding, especially in the wake of Floyd’s murder.

Among them: improving relationships and trust between police and community members by engaging in non-enforcement community activities and responding to feedback; working to address root causes of civil unrest, such as poverty, police treating BIPOC communities unjustly, etc.; leading efforts to “reimagine policing” and community safety while engaging with communities about issues related to law enforcement oversight and accountability; enhancing diversity and inclusion efforts so police officers reflect the communities they serve and provide prolonged anti-bias training.

Other recommendations include training police in facilitating peaceful protests, including related to skillful negotiation and dialogue with protesters; engaging protest groups and organizations ahead of time, as well as doing outreach with businesses and communities affected by civil unrest and those most at risk of future unrest.

DPS should also support state and local law enforcement in promoting mental health and providing resources to officers by addressing stigma, proactively evaluating the psychological well-being of officers and integrating mental health services into agencies. 

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