Cities and law enforcement agencies in the metro over the past several weeks have joined a group that plans to lease or buy fencing designed to thwart attacks on police stations.
The effort is rooted in the fear that what happened at the Minneapolis Third Precinct station during unrest following the police killing of George Floyd could happen elsewhere.
The "anti-scale" fencing is hard to climb, doesn't tip easily and reduces the need for officers armed in riot gear, said Mark Ray, the Crystal public works director who was among a group who brainstormed the idea to have cities collectively buy fence.
It's too expensive for most cities to buy such fencing, but by working together in what Ray calls the Fencing Consortium the cities would pay somewhere between $5,000 and $16,000 a year to maintain and store fencing at a metro warehouse, said Ray. The price range reflects the differing amount of fencing each city needs to encircle its police station. The assumption is that only one or maybe two cities at a time would ever need to deploy it.
"It's a de-escalation tool," said Ryan Murphy, of the St. Paul Police Department, which is a consortium member. The fencing protects the police station in the event of a quickly formed protest, but by keeping the protesters and police officers apart, it also helps prevent the protest from escalating into a confrontation.
The fencing is not available for concerts or planned protests, but exclusively for so-called "no notice" events that arise spontaneously, Ray said.
The anti-scale fencing is 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide; the sections interlock to form a wall. The fencing has gaps that are too small for fingers, making it hard to climb. A base extends on both sides of the fence by a couple of feet, and if people stand on the base in order to be near the fence, their weight makes the fencing more stable. Gates and doorways can be added where needed.
How it would work
If a law enforcement agency needs the fence, its request would go to the Fencing Consortium's board, which currently has five members. The board would have to approve the deployment, and then a team made up of one to three staffers from each member agency would put out the fences.
"The hope of the consortium is that within eight hours of that phone call they would have something moving so the fence could be in place within 24 hours," said Murphy.
Some 28 cities or law enforcement agencies have joined so far. St. Paul is a member but Minneapolis is not. The Fencing Consortium has made presentations to city councils in the metro about the project.
The cost per city depends on the length of their police station's perimeter; the largest and thus most expensive in the group so far is Eden Prairie, Ray said.
The group asked the state Legislature to contribute $5 million to the project but was turned down in the 2022 legislative session. They plan to ask again next year because the cost has prevented some communities from joining, Ray said. "We're trying to go back to the state to purchase the fence, because that will significantly reduce our cost," he said. Some 50 agencies have expressed interest, and the consortium plans to go forward with or without state funding, said Ray.
Two-thirds of a mile
After talking to several fencing vendors, the group recently put out requests for bids to two vendors — ARX Perimeters and Premier Global Production. The consortium hopes to have a contract by Jan. 1, and the fencing three or four months later.
They hope to lease about 3,500 feet of fencing — or about two-thirds of a mile — for their first year of operation. Ray said the hope is that the consortium would eventually buy its own fencing.
The group's origins go to the night the Minneapolis Third Precinct burned, said Murphy. "After the Third Precinct was burned down everyone in the industry looked at what do we have, and what can we do different and what can we do in the future if this were to come to our site?" said Murphy.
Fencing used during the Derek Chauvin trial was trucked in from Chicago. That's too far away for spontaneous protests, and no one in the Twin Cities makes a suitable product. "The goal is to have the product stored in state so it's readily deployable," Murphy said.