Minneapolis, MN – Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said it wasn’t safe for police to try to stop protesters who were looting and setting fires in the city because they were throwing Molotov cocktails and other items at officers.
“Right now, our main priority for our officers there are the safety of those who are out there,” Chief Arradondo told KARE in an interview on Wednesday evening about the protests surrounding the death in custody of George Floyd.
Minneapolis police have been unable to contain the protesters and looters who rampaged through stores and set fire to entire city blocks, including an affordable housing project that was under construction and local businesses.
On Tuesday night, police officers without crowd control body armor or shields came under a barrage of thrown rocks and fireworks, video showed.
“So we do have peaceful protesters who just by the dynamics are in the middle or in the mix with those who are causing some of this destruction,” Chief Arradondo continued. “And so they’re being injured and we need to make sure we’re providing safety and protection for them.”
The police chief said he was focusing his resources on providing police services to the community while the riots raged around them.
“We also have local businesses and folks are working there and also residents nearby,” he explained. “And so when we get calls to those areas, we need to make sure that those resources of the MPD are there primarily for the priority of preserving life and safety. So that is where the resources are right now.”
Chief Arradondo issued a “call for peace” during the interview.
When he was asked whether it was too dangerous for police to directly confront the looters, the chief told KARE “Absolutely.”
“Our officers are being – have been for several hours here – Molotov cocktails thrown at them, rocks, and other projectiles,” Chief Arradondo said. “And so, obviously, their safety is paramount. So, I don’t want them going into an area where they’re at risk of harm themselves.”
Videos posted to social media on Tuesday and Wednesday night showed Minneapolis police officers in an array of different protective gear, but very few in what is considered actual “riot gear” used by civil disturbance units.
Most officers were wearing standard police uniforms with riot helmets that featured face shields and only carried a long wooden baton in addition to their service weapons.
Blue Lives Matter reached out to the Minneapolis Police Department to find out what riot gear is issued to patrol officers, versus SWAT or other special response units.
We also asked the police department how much and what kind of civil disturbance and crowd control training its officers received.
Minneapolis police did not respond to requests for information before publication time, but an interview with former Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau by the Police Executive Research Forum that was published in 2018 offered some insight as to how the officers are equipped.
Former Chief Harteau, who resigned in 2017 shortly after Minneapolis Police Officer Mohammed Noor shot Justine Damond in the alley behind her home, said the police department had switched up its approach to dealing with protests after demonstrations in connection with the shooting death of Jamar Clark in November of 2015.
The police department said Clark reached for an officer’s gun before he was shot, prompting anti-police protesters to set up an encampment in the threshold of the 4th Precinct building, WCCO reported.
The occupation lasted for nearly 20 days total, but on the eighth day, Nov. 23, 2015, five protesters were shot during a confrontation with counter protesters.
Minneapolis police faced a second wave of protests when the Hennepin County prosecutor announced that neither of the officers involved in Clark’s death would be charged.
The former police chief, in the report on “Police Response to Mass Demonstrations,” said that Minneapolis police had taken a softer, more community-oriented approached during the second round of protests.
She said they asked community leaders to intervene and disperse protesters instead of the police, and waved away flag burning and a second occupation of the precinct entrance as non-violent problems.
“I can also mention some quick lessons learned for us about tactics and equipment,” former Chief Harteau said. “We learned that there are some new flashpoints out there in terms of how people view the police. Something as simple as camouflage is a flashpoint that can really incite the crowd, so we’ve changed our special weapons and tactics [SWAT] uniform, so there’s no camo; they’re navy blue. And we painted our BearCat a solid black.”
“We also had to reevaluate the use of 40-mm marking rounds to ensure that our chemical agent response teams carry those instead of our line officers,” she said, which explained why Minneapolis police officers at the Floyd riots were not equipped with those less-lethal options. “The fact that the equipment using those rounds look similar to an assault rifle tends to upset and often incite people. Today we are very cognizant of issues regarding any militarized look, and we decided it’s better to try to avoid inciting people with these things.”
Retired Washington Metro Transit Police Captain William Malone told Blue Lives Matter that police departments across the country started demilitarizing uniforms after the Michael Brown protests in Ferguson in August of 2014.
“There was a move to make patrol officers looks less like soldiers at that point,” Malone explained. “It was a mistake.”
The former SWAT team commander said many departments ramped up their civil disturbance units after the protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle in November of 1999 left that city in ruins.
He said his department, like most police in other major cities, made sure their patrol officers were equipped with proper gear and training to assist in riot and crowd control situations when needed.
Malone said that when WTO protests happened in Washington, DC a few months later, he was on the front lines with his properly-equipped officers.
“Every officer sent to help manage civil disturbances was issued a riot helmet, a gas mask, a face shield, a Plexiglas body shield, chest protectors, and shin guards,” Malone said. “We looked like a combo of baseball catchers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but you could take a rock to the head or chest and not be injured.”
The retired police captain told Blue Lives Matter most of the Minneapolis officers battling rioters don’t appear to be properly equipped for a civil disturbance.
“There’s officers in short sleeves throwing gas canisters – none of the officers responding to a civil disturbance should be in short sleeves when they are deploying less-lethal and chemical munitions,” he said, sounding angry. “It’s irresponsible to send officers out to deal with protesters dressed that way.”
Malone said the officers should also be equipped with tactical fire extinguishers that fit in uniform pockets.
He said that when departments in DC faced off with violent protesters they had K-9 units and arrest teams behind the front lines to effectively scoop up and lock up protesters who broke through.
The retired SWAT commander noted that while some Minneapolis officers appeared to be dressed in appropriate riot gear, carried extra flexi-cuffs for mass arrests, and wore or carried gas masks, the majority of the force looked woefully ill-equipped.
“It’s clear there’s no uniformity in what’s issued to the street patrol officers who have been pulled to work riot duty,” Malone said. “Maybe they don’t want them to look like mean guys, but I’m seeing a lot of officers who don’t appear to have tactical vests or other proper protection facing off with angry protesters.”
“The Minneapolis police chief wasn’t wrong when he said it was too dangerous to send officers to face off with rioters if they’re dressed like street patrol,” he continued. “But that’s on the leadership of the Minneapolis Police Department. Making your police force look warmer and fuzzier to the community does you no good when the community is launching incendiary devices at your officers.”