State and local law enforcement failed to quickly coordinate when riots broke out in Minneapolis after George Floyd’s killing and response teams lacked “clear, experienced” leadership during the unprecedented destruction, according to an external review of Minnesota’s response.
The after-action review of the unrest that broke out in May and June 2020 painted a picture of state and city leaders caught off guard by the widespread riots, looting and arson that spread through Minneapolis and St. Paul and confused over who should take the lead. Law enforcement agencies on the ground used different approaches to handling crowds, sometimes working against each other.
“There was a chaotic beginning and differing reports regarding the extent to which a chain of command was understood and followed,” said Anna Grania, one of the authors of the review. “The lack of clarity among participating agencies regarding chain of command and unified command structure hindered timely and effective response to the unrest.”
The 129-page report from Wilder Research was contracted by the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) in February 2021 to “objectively evaluate what the state did well and did not do well.” The report also outlines recommendations to respond to future unrest.
The state eventually helped quell the unrest by deploying resources from state troopers and Department of Natural Resources conservation officers, while coordinating with the Minnesota National Guard and local law enforcement, according to the report. State officials also issued curfews and quickly blocked off key highways to help control and disperse crowds.
But that level of coordinated action started too late, according to the review. State officials initially played a supporting role, expecting the city of Minneapolis to take the lead. After the city’s Third Police Precinct was abandoned and set on fire, the state stepped in and took charge in coordinating the response.
“There were moments where we were trying to figure out what the mission was,” Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington told legislators on Thursday during a hearing on the report. “We got conflicting orders from different elected officials.”
The state’s move to take over in place of the city is typically “not the best practice,” but it was “necessary in this instance,” according to the report. “The MACC [Multi-Agency Command Center] could have been set up earlier to prepare for a potential coordinated response.”
Early on, the state’s coordinated effort also suffered from lack of a clear and unified command structure and “insufficient” engagement from Minneapolis police, which had their own emergency response center set up in northeast Minneapolis. The state’s team was set up at TCF Stadium, where former Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo was “notably absent,” the report says.
The report’s authors cited a need to improve the timeliness and communications regarding the deployment of the Minnesota National Guard, which must be requested by city leaders.
“Previous emergency management planning in Minnesota was centered on natural disasters. The unplanned and unprecedented nature of the events cannot be overstated,” read the report. “A planned response to an event of this scale would have looked much different.”
The review also detailed how the various law enforcement agencies had different training to respond to crowds. Minneapolis police dispersed crowds that other agencies were trying to contain. Agencies also disagreed about the use of chemical munitions.
“I recognized other behaviors that were concerning to me like the MPD’s use of chemical munitions,” an unnamed state official said in the report. “When they came to me and asked for additional chemical munitions, because they were running out, I told them no. I wasn’t willing to do that because I didn’t feel like their use of it was judicious and appropriate.”
The report contains critiques similar to Minneapolis’ after-action report, published three weeks ago. That investigation, conducted by Maryland-based risk management firm Hillard Heintze, found a breakdown in communications and planning left residents feeling abandoned and city employees — including police — confused about who was in charge.
Sarah McKenzie, a city of Minneapolis spokesperson, said Thursday that city leaders were still reviewing the Wilder Research review as well as the recently released after-action report that focused on the Minneapolis response.
“I’ve seen protests that gathered a few thousands of people but I’ve never seen 10,000 on the street with a common cause,” Harrington told the House public safety and criminal justice committee. “This is something I have not seen in my 40-plus years in policing.”
Gov. Tim Walz’s administration used the report’s release to urge passage of the governor’s public safety budget recommendations, which include $300 million for public safety funding for local governments and $500,000 for Harrington’s department to train local elected officials “on initiating the emergency response and requests for state coordination and assets.”
Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann echoed the need for the Legislature to “pass the governor’s plan to improve the state’s ability to respond to civil unrest.”
Harrington wrote that the Department of Public Safety conducted its own internal reviews of law enforcement responses to civil unrest, including the April 2021 unrest in Brooklyn Center that followed the police killing of Daunte Wright.
The commissioner noted that his department has meanwhile contracted with an independent consultant called 21CP Solutions to help DPS better work with those reporting on civil unrest.
The Department of Public Safety outlined a series of actions already under way or being implemented in response to a review of the 2020 unrest. That includes new State Patrol policies for interacting with the press and a proposal to enshrine a model policy for crowd management into state law. It cited the State Patrol’s work with tribal liaisons and Native American elders during a series of Line 3 pipeline protests at the Capitol last year. The Departments of Public Safety and Natural Resources are also planning training on police/media relations this year and will invite members of the media.
The report’s authors suggested other improvements to public and press-related communications. It cited “several instances of public officials, both at the state and local level, disseminating false or unverified information about facts on the ground.” This included statements from Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, suggesting that a truck driver intentionally ran into a crowd of protesters on a Minneapolis freeway and claims from others that those who caused the most destruction were protestors from out of state.
“Unverified information that is then found to be inaccurate can undermine the public’s sense of security and trust in leadership,” the report read.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Minnesota Department of Human Rights are still conducting separate sweeping reviews into the conduct of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Staff writers Liz Navratil and Andy Mannix contributed to this report.
Read the review below: