‘Operation Safety Net’: National Guard could be deployed indefinitely while officers in Floyd case stand trial

The Minnesota National Guard is preparing for a potentially massive and indefinite deployment early next year, during the high-profile trial of the four former Minneapolis police officers tied to the death of George Floyd, according to an internal plan obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES.

The 12-page warning order called "Operation Safety Net" outlines in great detail how the guard will respond to anticipated civil unrest before, during and after the trial of Derek Chauvin, J Alexander Keung, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.

The worst-case scenario calls for all available guard forces in the state to be activated for an indefinite period of time.

If activated, it would be an unprecedented commitment of time and resources on the heels of a record-setting year for citizen-soldiers and airmen who were also called to help stop the rioting and looting after Floyd’s death.

It would be the fourth deployment in under 12 months for the guard in response to civil unrest.

Col. Scott Rohweder, who is in charge of executing the plans for the guard, agreed to discuss the guard’s role in the operation after learning 5 INVESTIGATES obtained a copy of the internal plans.

“It’s very prudent on us to make sure we’re planning for large scale numbers and how we would activate units,” Rohweder said.

Operation Safety Net involves multiple agencies around the Twin Cities. It’s being orchestrated by Minneapolis Police, which started planning back in July, according to a MPD spokesman.

“It is a big deal,” Rohweder said during an interview inside the guard’s secure command center in St. Paul, known as the Joint Operations Center. “It’s one of those things where we have to be prepared for that kind of operation and change the paradigm of our thinking to make sure that we’re prepared at any moment’s notice to activate that kind of large scale force.”

When Gov. Tim Walz ordered the full mobilization of the guard last spring, it was the largest domestic deployment in Minnesota National Guard history.

The mobilization in Operation Safety Net would be comparable to the number of troops called up last summer, but this activation could be significantly longer.

Teddy Tschann, the governor’s spokesman, told 5 INVESTIGATES that "it’s Governor Walz’s expectation that these long-term planning and coordination efforts will help keep Minnesotans safe."

Under the current plans, the mission is to protect citizens and property. Rohweder confirmed to 5 INVESTIGATES that parts of the plan have already been executed, including moving equipment and vehicles so they’re in prime position.

The trial of the four former MPD officers, which is anticipated to run eight weeks, is currently scheduled to begin in early March. On Monday, the attorney for Derek Chauvin asked the court to push back the trial for additional time to prepare.

But if the judge keeps the current schedule, Walz could issue an executive order activating the guard weeks ahead of time in February, according to the timeline laid out in Operation Safety Net.

The plans say an early order from the governor will help facilitate the activation and staging of troops.

“That particular piece was part of what we call a warning order, which is what goes out to our operational units to tell them that, ‘Hey, we have to be prepared,’” Rohweder said. “The actual days and times that we put together, we’ve made it very clear to our forces that May was a great example that we can’t predict the day or time of an event to happen.”

“The events in May showed us that we could activate the whole Minnesota National Guard,” Rohweder said. “That’s what we do in the military, we plan for contingency operations to ensure that we’re ready to provide the support the governor might request.”