Operation Safety Net ramps up as local officials, organizations call for its curtailment

Kyle Brown and Tom Hauser
Updated: April 15, 2021 07:16 PM
Created: April 15, 2021 06:20 PM

“Operation Safety Net” kicked into its highest phase of security preparedness in the past 48 hours as the trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin nears an end.

Minnesota National Guard soldiers and police are more visible than ever on the streets of downtown Minneapolis and nearby neighborhoods. But the elevated law enforcement presence is not entirely welcome as officers have clashed with demonstrators for nights on end following the shooting death of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center.

“We understand our communities, our cities, are going through a tough time,” says Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. The chief, Mayor Jacob Frey and other city leaders spoke Thursday at their daily security briefing.

City officials say the city received at least 200 calls reporting burglaries, alarms or damage to businesses since Sunday night. 

Kim Potter, the Brooklyn Center police officer who shot Wright, has since resigned from the department and has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. According to a criminal complaint, Potter shot Wright once after he tried to get back in his car after being put in handcuffs. Potter allegedly meant to deploy her Taser and reached for her handgun by accident.

Even though the National Guard and other state security resources are now stretched between Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, the chief is confident Minneapolis residents will be protected.

“We planned for the unexpected,” Arradondo said, before adding, “Clearly even our phases did not account for a specific officer-involved shooting right in the midst of the trial.”

Even so, the chief says anyone visiting Minneapolis will see plenty of security.

“A robust presence of both our citizen soldiers, our men and women of the National Guard...and certainly now just a gathering of local law enforcement, state and county agencies,” Arradondo said.

Meanwhile, businesses are stepping up reinforcing their buildings with plywood over windows, including around the most prominent buildings like the IDS Tower and USBancorp Center.

“There's a lot more buildings getting boarded up,” construction worker Jason Hedin told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS as he boarded up a building. “A lot more. A lot more people preparing for what may or may not happen.”

Law enforcement officers clear an area of demonstrators during a protest over Sunday's fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn.  | John Minchillo/Associated Press Law enforcement officers clear an area of demonstrators during a protest over Sunday's fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. | John Minchillo/Associated Press

Outcry from community

After four nights of clashes with police and protesters in Brooklyn Center, dozens of community organizations and elected officials signed two separate letters calling for local and state leaders to curtail Operation Safety Net, the joint law enforcement task force deployed in the Twin Cities.

Operation Safety Net — a coordinated law enforcement response between the Minnesota National Guard, Minnesota State Patrol, Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and local police departments — was originally devised to preempt potential unrest during the Derek Chauvin trial. But its first deployment has been as a counter to protests in Brooklyn Center in response to a police officer fatally shooting 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop.

Two separate letters were circulated on Thursday, one signed by a coalition of roughly three dozen community organizations; and another signed by a score of local city council members, Hennepin County commissioners and school board members. They addressed the leaders at the head of Operation Safety Net, including Gov. Tim Walz, Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson, Mayor Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.

The letter from community organizations criticized the "militarized" police response to people protesting police brutality "and the compounding trauma caused by the state against Black, brown, and Indigenous communities." It also addressed reports of journalists being harmed or detained while reporting on the demonstrations.

It also cites a report from Brooklyn Center of someone sent to the emergency room after being struck by a tear gas canister and over 100 serious injuries from police response to unrest in Minneapolis last summer. 

"We call for immediate action by executive leaders to stop ‘Operation Safety Net,’" the letter states. "Punishing people for grieving police violence with militarized force is not leadership - it is violence. For the health of our communities, we are pleading for a rational change of plans, transparency, and accountability. We truly fear what is to come if this is the response before Derek Chauvin’s trial verdict. Our communities deserve answers for how we got here and a guarantee this will not continue.”

The letter from local officials does not explicitly demand the dissolution of Operation Safety Net, but it does call for significant changes to the way the law enforcement coalition approaches protesters.

In particular, the letter decried Operation Safety Net's crowd control tactics, including the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and kettling. Officials pointed to the continued use of tear gas at the Brooklyn Center Police Department after the city's mayor and city council had already passed a resolution banning its use. 

During protests at the police department Wednesday night, law enforcement officers did not use tear gas, but KSTP crews did see them use chemical irritants, flash-bang grenades and less-lethal ammunition to disperse protesters.

The letter signed by city officials calls on Operation Safety Net leaders to stop the use of all "less lethal" weapons, cease the use of curfews to stop protests and drop charges against all protesters arrested since Sunday night, among other demands.

"We share the outrage that reverberates through our streets. We share our community’s exhaustion with a constant cycle of violence and force," the letter states. "We need you to show up in the name of good governance and moral clarity. We need your actions to match your words."

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