Report details Minneapolis riot response, offers recommendations
This report is a hard read, but necessary for police leaders around the country
On March 8, International Security firm Hilliard Heintze released its 86-page report (available in full below) on the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and the State of Minnesota’s response to the civil unrest and violence that occurred during 2020 in Minneapolis.
The report’s authors admitted they were unable to get wide-spread ground-level perceptions from officers involved in responding to 2020’s civil unrest stating, “Despite our best efforts and numerous requests, directly and through identified sources, we found few line officers and community or activist groups willing to speak with us directly. A significant number of officers retired or resigned from the MPD after the protests. Some left the occupation while others joined other departments. Many other officers remain on extended medical leave, reportedly associated with the emotional trauma of responding to the civil unrest.”
Of the officers who did speak with the report’s authors, they “…recognized that the MPD’s response to the protests did not go well.”
Hilliard Heintze duly noted that the 2020 disturbances were unprecedented, but found MPD ill-prepared in these areas:
- Prior to the events, MPD had no civil disturbance team.
- The department had not offered crowd control training since 2016.
- Scheduled training in January 2020 did not take place because of COVID concerns.
- Officers had to respond to violence without proper riot response equipment.
- The MPD had a detailed response plan for such emergencies but did not use it.
- With the exception of high praise for the line supervisors who showed leadership in tough circumstances, there was an observation made that from the Mayor’s office down the officers seemed to be left leaderless.
- Although MPD had trained in the Incident Command System, it was never instituted.
- Command structures formed “organically” and were disjointed.
- There was no unified command between the Minneapolis Fire Department and MPD.
- The communication centers of both were inundated by a call volume five times that of normal operations.
A chronological review of events
George Floyd is arrested for passing a $20 counterfeit bill and he dies during the arrest.
A headline about the incident reads, “A man dies after a medical incident during a police interaction.”
After this informational release, a citizen video of the arrest and death of George Floyd goes viral across social media.
Demonstrations begin and Minneapolis city officials and MPD decide to take a hands-off approach. MPD provides a traffic detail to keep open a traffic lane to allow the crowds an “unobstructed space to express their frustration and anger,” with little or no contact from the police. The “unobstructed space” leads to widespread violence breaking out at 6 p.m.
Officers responding to reports of violence have to be rescued from the violent crowds who surrounded and trapped them upon their arrival.
Rioters focus on attacking the 3rd Precinct where a battle-like confrontation erupts. Officers use 40 mm impact munitions and chemical munitions to hold back and eventually disperse the crowd. Even though the defense of the 3rd Precinct was accomplished reasonably considering the violence of the rioters, city council members rail against the police response and decry the tactics, demanding the police cease and desist. The demanding tone of these council members left the report writers wondering who was in charge.
Minneapolis State Police send 100 officers to assist, and a number of St. Paul officers respond to provide mutual aid.
Unprotected and under-protected, officers come under relentless attacks from bricks, bottles and rocks, as well as a monumental amount of verbal abuse. Looting and arson become widespread indicating the need for a National Guard response. Mayor Jacob Frey’s office makes a request for the National Guard but fails to follow the proper format. This ineptitude delays the National Guard’s response by a day.
The Hilliard Heintze investigators had this to say about the city leadership’s initial response:
“Civil unrest in Minneapolis was unprecedented; however, the lack of a basic crisis response framework was evident and limited the MPD’s ability to respond appropriately. As indicated, simply identifying and designating individuals to the command post in advance increases initial response effectiveness and leads to a more comprehensive, confident and efficient crisis response. Field personnel who we interviewed felt that in the first two days of the protest and unrest, MPD leadership, and presumably the city, attempted to keep the incident low profile and did not request additional resources, such as using callback or requesting assistance from other agencies. Further, officers stated that officers and agencies offered help and MPD leadership declined the offers. As a result, officers lost faith and trust in leadership.”
With the lack of a coordinated response by MPD and the delayed response of the National Guard, the city falls into chaos with widespread looting and arson.
Officers must battle with a crowd just to rescue a female stabbing victim from its midst. The 3rd Precinct falls under attack again. “MPD leadership” orders it abandoned.
🚨🚨🚨: Rioters have torn down the fencing around the 3rd precinct's police building. pic.twitter.com/iKbY8QJw4q— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) May 29, 2020
These two events are described in detail in the report from the events captured on body-worn camera recordings. Here are excerpts worth reading:
The SWAT van response to rescue stabbing victim in the Target lot:
“Large groups of protesters and individuals engaging in violent behavior occupied the areas. We observed multiple objects striking the van repeatedly. Once they arrived, the officers quickly formed a protective perimeter around the woman who was stabbed. The officers used munitions and deployed OC/CS handheld canisters to keep the crowds back. Officers loaded the woman onto a flatbed handcart found in the immediate area, evacuated to the SWAT van, and transported to the local hospital for emergency care.”
Tactics of rioters detailed in an activist publication:
The report’s investigative team found leaders of the violence describing the tactics they employed to deliberately cause chaos: “Of particular interest in this publication is the description of how these ‘ballistic squads’ used the peaceful protesters as shields. The front line of peaceful protesters with their hands up provided, knowingly or unknowingly, a perfect cover for others behind the crowd to launch projectiles at the officers.”
Tactics of officers:
“We observed individuals throwing objects from the back of the crowd on occasion, and these objects landed near officers or struck them. The objects included plastic water bottles, rocks, chunks of concrete, bricks, fireworks, glass bottles and other unidentified objects. When someone threw an object, the officers with 40 mm launchers would attempt to locate and engage the person responsible, and frontline officers would use chemical munitions, such as foggers, on those directly in front of them. This would typically result in the crowd escalating the violence and a substantial increase of objects thrown at the officers in the area. The officers would respond with an increased use of impact munitions, handheld “blast balls” and chemical munitions, which pushed the crowds away from the officers and decreased the frequency of objects thrown.”
“After approximately 10 to 15 minutes, the crowd would reposition directly in front of the officers, and the cycle would repeat. Although supervisors were present and seen providing some guidance to the officers, the officers in the video footage appeared to engage the crowds with the use of munitions and OC/CS foggers on their own accord. Our interviews further support this conclusion as many officers expressed their frustration in the lack of direction or orders they received. Many officers stated they were not provided direction or a plan to deal with the escalating violence of the unrest.”
Many of these plastic water bottles were pre-frozen, designed to impact with a greater effect.
Also, MPD required a process to gain approval from the overall commander and properly document each use of impact munitions but under these dynamic circumstances the process was deemed by officers to be unrealistically “cumbersome,” and impact munitions were widely used without that authorization and their use was commonly undocumented.
Body-worn camera observations of the evacuation of the 3rd Precinct:
“We reviewed the evacuation of the 3rd Precinct from differing BWC perspectives. Officers gathered in the 3rd Precinct at approximately 9:45 p.m. on May 28, 2020, learned that they would be evacuating the precinct as a group. Officers gathered in vehicles and on foot in the parking lot. When officers began to leave the precinct, the gate to the parking lot was secured and officers had to force it open using a police vehicle. Officers in vehicles attempted to protect the officers on foot as they moved south toward 32nd Street. People threw objects at officers as they evacuated, striking vehicles and officers. Radio transmissions advised officers that the buses were not at the pickup location and were still en route. As officers convoyed away from the 3rd Precinct, rioters shouted obscenities and continued hurling objects at officers and patrol vehicles as they moved out of the area. At this time, the crowd moved back to the building, which was quickly engulfed in flames.”
The Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct was set on fire on Thursday night. pic.twitter.com/J6vjZKoCeQ— Carlos Gonzalez (@CarlosGphoto) May 29, 2020
This is the moment when Minneapolis police officers abandoned the 3rd precinct building. Rioters chased them as they left and continued to throw objects at the police vehicles. pic.twitter.com/KoxAAYiUIN— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) May 29, 2020
Rioters successfully opened one of the doors to the third precinct's building, but police had one surprise for them: they set off a ton of tear gas inside. The rioters quickly exited the building. pic.twitter.com/y5SpwXRxqd— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) May 29, 2020
The governor issues a curfew. Rioters try to take the 5th Precinct but are thwarted by local, state and federal officers.
Joint patrols consisting of MPD, Minneapolis State Police and Minnesota National Guard members succeed as violence diminishes.
Law enforcement response becomes more organized. A crowd attempts an assault on the 4th Precinct but is dispersed by officers.
The Red Cross arrives to help those displaced by the violence to find shelter.
Violence diminishes further and officers arrest non-compliant individuals.
Officer Derek Chauvin is charged with murder.
Three more officers are charged by Hennepin County DA.
The overall assessment of riot damages and recovery attempts continues.
The report outlines several areas of improvement. Here are some of those recommendations abbreviated for your convenience:
- The importance of community conversations.
- Implementation of leadership development.
- Renewed adherence to the Incident Command System.
- Develop procedural guidance for:
- Preparation planning.
- Management and organization principles.
- General crowd responses.
- Use of force.
- Crowd dispersal.
- Mass arrest.
- Implement strict oversight of less-lethal munitions use.
- The city should create a city-wide crisis communication plan.
- Establish better documentation of equipment use.
- Formalize an overall incident report protocol.
- Change injury and illness reporting to “officer wellness.” Extensive recommendations were made here to address the shortcomings of action and post-action officer care. This need was recognized not only for police officers involved but fire and medical first responders as well.
- Formalize the process for obtaining outside assistance.
- Help guide citizen watch groups in their efforts to prepare to legally protect their interests during wide-scale violence like this.
My observations on the report
There is little said in the report about the media and political leaders who stirred the flames of the nationwide conflagration that occurred in 2020, so I will. They did and shame on them all for doing so.
This report is a hard read, but necessary for police leaders (not just supervisors but true leaders, who are many times line officers) around the country. It is difficult not to notice that even though civil unrest is a cyclical occurrence in this country, agencies time and time again do not begin preparations for their department’s response to these events until one catches them flat-footed with their hands in pockets. After the event, these agencies feverishly prepare to not be caught unprepared again and go to great ends in this pursuit. Then passions cool, time passes, and skills and equipment deteriorate and are lost. Eventually, civil unrest raises its ugly head and the agency is caught ill-prepared once again.
2020 was a call to action for all police leaders. This is a time to prepare yourselves and your officers for the greatest challenge you may face in your careers.
God bless and bring peace to all the officers who faced the "great noise" in 2020 and survived. May we continue to remember and pray for those officers who died in 2020 on that thin blue line.