With jury selection underway in the trial of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with three Minnesota police executives about their joint initiative to maintain public safety during the trial, Operation Safety Net.

Minneapolis Assistant Chief Henry Halvorson

The trial coming up will be a big undertaking. We have been fortunate to have some of our partner agencies assist us in preparing for this. The State Department of Public Safety, State Patrol, and State Department of Natural Resources have been very helpful, as have our local partners, including the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.

First, we had to decide on a plan of action, and implement it.  We worked to ensure we have the right stakeholders and decisionmakers involved. The executive team included Chief Medaria Arradondo, Sheriff David Hutchinson, Colonel Matt Langer of the State Patrol, the head of the state National Guard, and state Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington. We established a unified command so that we can all be part of the decisions in planning for this and making decisions about when we need to take action.

Second, it was important to decide on the key areas to focus on. One is ensuring that people have the ability to get out and demonstrate safely. Another part was ensuring we have resources and a plan of action to respond to any type of civil unrest, damaging of property, or any type of violence that may occur.

A third element has been our community engagement, to get information out to people. Part of that plan is ensuring we’re responding to our community, engaging with them about what’s happening, and keeping them informed about what’s going on. We’re finding the right people in our organization and news media organizations to interact with them and keep them informed.

Wexler: How will the incident command be structured?

Assistant Chief Halvorson: When the trial is completed and moves into the deliberations phase, we will move into a more structured unified command. We will have the executive team on-site at our MAC (multi-agency coordination) area, receiving information and intelligence. They will help with some decisions, but the on-the-ground tactical decisions will be made by the unified command, which will be within the MAC. That unified command will include leaders from different organizations, including the Minneapolis Police Department, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota State Patrol, and the National Guard. Tactical decisions will be made by that group.

Wexler: Tell me more about how you engaged with the community.

Assistant Chief Halvorson: We had time to prepare for this, and we recognized the importance of some things we unfortunately didn’t have time to do during the civil unrest last May. We identified some key points we needed to address with the community. We’re making sure we’re passing along information to community organizations, including the business associations, neighborhood organizations, and nonprofit organizations. We’re ensuring they’re receiving information, answering any questions they have, and taking input from them.

And we’re ensuring we have a network of people who can reach out to these organizations throughout each phase of this operation. That network will continue to pass along information and receive feedback about what they’re seeing and experiencing. Hearing different perspectives from our communities can give us a bigger picture about what’s going on.

Wexler: How will you manage everyday policing duties during this trial?

Assistant Chief Halvorson: While we have to respond and prepare for this trial, we still have a city and community we need to protect. We need to focus the resources we have available and utilize help from all our other partners. Primarily our patrol officers will be working in our five precincts. We’ll leverage other people in our organization to work on different aspects of this operation. And we’ll have assistance from all our other partners.


Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson

The core proceedings are in our Hennepin County government center. Through the unified command we built the fencing and barricades around those facilities to make sure the trial goes on peacefully. The fence goes around our jail, city hall, and the government building. People don’t like it, and I don’t like it. It doesn’t look good to have to close up a government building like we have, but with last May and June here and January 6th in DC, we can’t take any risks. Some people are hellbent on destroying property or setting fires. If you set a fire at the jail, which houses inmates, you’re going to kill people.

We’re also a good partner. Minneapolis is in Hennepin County, and the county owes its residents and taxpayers a peaceful resolution to this horrible tragedy. We’re a part of the unified command, and I have a major dedicated to that full time. We have a lot of resources in Hennepin County, but not enough, which is why we’ve had numerous other state agencies and local sheriffs and police departments help us.

Our main goal is to make sure the trial goes on without any issues. We’ll make sure the jury is protected and the sanctity of our American judicial system sees itself through.

Wexler: How have the events of January 6th in Washington, DC factored into your thinking?

Sheriff Hutchinson: We have to be prepared. People complaining about the fence would complain if we didn’t put the fence up and something happened. We’re preparing for what is an international trial at this point. People all around the world want to know what’s happening.

I’ll take the heat for the fence, gates, and security. We’re not taking away people’s First Amendment rights. People have room to gather and voice their concerns. And we’re trying to make sure nothing happens – no loss of life, no building is burned, and the security of the jurors, judges, and attorneys is maintained. My job is to make sure all the 1.4 million people in the county are protected, as well as making sure people can express their First Amendment rights.

With the fence, there will be less interaction between police and protesters. Hopefully that will cause fewer problems. We don’t need to have 500 deputies out blocking an area because we have the fence, and people still have the right to say whatever they want.

Wexler: How are you managing your deputies’ wellness during all this?

Sheriff Hutchinson: We have our wellness center – Tri Wellness. We have our chaplains. We have a full-time therapist on-site here at city hall. We’ve also reached out to mental health providers throughout the Twin Cities who are available to come in and talk with the deputies. Chaplains are bringing us food and water.

We’ve reached out to the community groups that have always supported our wellness initiatives, and they’ve come out in large numbers when we’ve needed them. With one call to our Tri Wellness unit, we can have mental health providers and religious leaders come out to our roll calls.

I also have to make sure the other executives and I get the care we need, because sometimes we forget about ourselves. We’ve added ways for executives to reach out and get any help they need.

We’re trying to plan everything, from religious support to some gym time. Instead of getting people bologna sandwiches or pizza for lunch, we’re getting some fruit and vegetables if we can.


Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington

Wexler: You were the police chief in Saint Paul when the Republican National Convention was held there in 2008. How do preparations for this event compare to preparations for the RNC?

Commissioner Harrington: There are some flashback moments. There was so much more damage done during the early days of the George Floyd riots than there was during the RNC.

One difference between this and the RNC is the date of the Chauvin verdict is not certain. With the RNC, you knew what day it was going to start, what day the President was going to speak, what day they were going to have the acceptance speeches, and what day it was going to end. We’re preparing for a trial that may be two months long or even longer, depending on how the courts proceed. The start and end points are a lot more uncertain.

The unified command is very similar. One difference is that with national conventions, there is a funding source that helps provide resources for all the associated agencies and all the mutual aid coming in. For this, there is no outside funding source. We have asked to create an account to help the state support the city of Minneapolis with funding.

Wexler: What is the role for your troopers?

Commissioner Harrington: When May and June happened, we sent every state trooper in Minnesota into Minneapolis and Saint Paul to help restore the peace and hold the line there. We also convened the multi-agency coordination center, and we are continuing to act in that role. On both the Minneapolis and Saint Paul sides, we’re convening the groups that are coming together.

We also serve as the vehicle for the National Guard to be engaged in this work. They do not report to the Department of Public Safety, but we have a collegial relationship with the adjutant general, General Shawn Manke. We are working as the liaison to help Minneapolis and Saint Paul get the National Guard assistance they need.

At the same time, we have a role in the intelligence aspect of this, working with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the fusion center, and our federal, state, and local partners. So the state has multiple roles in this effort. We’re trying to do all that, get through the legislative session, and we have a few other things going on in Minnesota in addition to the trial.

Wexler: How do all your organizations handle news media?

Commissioner Harrington: One lesson we learned from the RNC is the importance of a joint information center as part of our unified command. Whether it’s John Elder from Minneapolis or Bruce Gordon from the Department of Public Safety, every day we’ve had folks coordinating the media. They monitor the questions coming in from traditional media and social media.

We have been hosting weekly information sessions every Monday for the last two or three weeks, to make sure people understand what we’re doing. We let them know about the fence before the fence went up. We let them know about the National Guard before they first saw the National Guard folks on site. We let them know about our federal partnerships. We’re going to continue to inform the public through that avenue.

We’ve also stood up a website for Operation Safety Net, so people can get information that way. And we’re working with community advocates, so that they can get their information. We’re making sure the diverse communities of the Twin Cities get our messages in a way that is most approachable and most informative.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.