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Sorting out which Minnesota agencies are helping at ND pipeline protests – and why

One of the big questions: Why are Minnesota law enforcement agencies at the scene of the North Dakota protest?

Months after the protests started, hundreds of demonstrators are still pushing back against the construction of an oil pipeline that would brush up against the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.

More than 80 people were arrested while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline pipeline Saturday, with reports of officers using pepper spray – which at one point was turned on an officer by a demonstrator. Authorities say protesters also fired arrows at a helicopter, created an illegal road block on Highway 1806 and "illegally occupied private property" by bringing tents and teepees to a construction site.

On Sunday, a woman named Donna Brown snapped these photos of Hennepin County Sheriff's Office vehicles near the protest site:

Stories quickly started spreading, and questions came flooding in: Why are Minnesota law enforcement agencies at the scene of a protest? And which ones are there?

Here are some answers to help sort it all out.

Who is in Standing Rock?

Members of three Minnesota sheriff's offices (Anoka, Hennepin and Washington counties) were sent to Morton County, North Dakota, to help.

Anoka County sent six deputies in three patrol vehicles, Cmdr. Paul Sommers told GoMN in an email. No "specialty unit" personnel or vehicles were sent.

The offices in both Anoka and Hennepin, in their only official statement being released at this time, said they're in North Dakota to "assist in maintaining the public’s safety, preserve the peace, and protect the constitutional rights of protesters."

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office however is not sharing what it termed operational figures right now, a spokesperson said – that includes how many people were sent, for how long, and with what equipment.

We've reached out to the Washington County Sheriff's Offices for more information and comment as well.

Worth noting: The Minneapolis Police Department does not have officers there, which they clarified on Facebook Sunday. Spokesperson Corey Schmidt told GoMN they were tagged in "several" posts that incorrectly said their officers were in Standing Rock.

Why are Minnesota agencies even helping?

All 50 states are part of this thing called EMAC – short for Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

It's basically an agreement between law enforcement agencies that they'll share resources and personnel during emergency situations. And it can be used for just about anything: disaster recovery, fire fighting, medical help, etc.

Last time Hennepin County took part in an EMAC response was in June 2008, during flooding in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, spokesperson Jon Collins told GoMN.

EMAC was ratified in 1996, and all U.S. states – plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – are part of it.

Minnesota's EMAC response is coordinated by the state's Homeland Security and Emergency Management. (Note: We reached out to that agency for an interview, but did not hear back by publishing time. We'll update this story if we get more information from them.)

How does EMAC work?

A state government declares a state of emergency or disaster declaration (which North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple did on Oct. 19). It gets sent to the EMAC system, and the state can then send requests to others for help.

From there, the request starts getting pushed to other states – starting with the closest in terms of time/distance. If a state thinks it can help, it can offer to do so and the two sides will work out the details. These steps are detailed here on the EMAC site.

Under EMAC rules, law enforcement officers who get pulled in to help can bring all service weapons and equipment they'd normally use, barring a specific state law that bans them.

All of the costs for the extra help have to be paid by the state that asked for help. So in the case of Standing Rock, North Dakota will pick up the tab for the resources from Minnesota and those other states.

Morton County, North Dakota, said it made the request for extra help on Oct. 7 due to "escalated unlawful tactics" by protesters.

Six states have responded, and have sent (or will send) resources to help: Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Indiana and Nebraska, the county said.

The backlash to the help

Standing Rock is among the groups that have criticized the response from North Dakota authorities toward protesters, characterizing it as over-the-top.

The criticisms are especially present among #NoDAPL people who argue the $3.8 billion oil pipeline is a threat to Standing Rock's water supply and will destroy sites of cultural and historical significance.

Proponents argue the pipeline will reduce the amount of oil that needs to be transported by truck or train.

But there are some people who aren't happy about Minnesota lending a hand.

The 500-plus comments on this post from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office give you a good look at the negative feedback (though note some of them have been deleted). There's a lot of criticism about whether Hennepin County should get involved in something like this, and the use of resources.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek will meet with protest organizers in Minnesota Thursday to "hear concerns" about keeping public safety and protecting the constitutional rights of protestors, Collins told GoMN.

He also said the office is not bringing any equipment or resources "that would take away from the day-to-day services that we’re providing for Hennepin County."

A petition to get agencies out

The group Honor the Earth is asking residents who don't agree with the deployment of resources in North Dakota to reach out to their sheriff's office and county commissioners.

There was also a rally at noon Tuesday, in front of the Hennepin County Government Center, to stand with Standing Rock. And there's a petition they want people to sign, that reads in part:

"In our judgment, the demonstrations by water protectors on and near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation have been overwhelmingly peaceful, prayerful, dignified, and reverent ... Morton County law enforcement has responded with riot police, armored vehicles, pepper spray, lethal weapons, illegal surveillance, illegal strip searches, trumped-up charges, racial profiling, and many other forms of physical violence and abuse designed to repress and intimidate."

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