Nearly three years after the mass protests, rioting, looting and arson following the police murder of George Floyd, Minneapolis is ready for the next emergency, Mayor Jacob Frey and a phalanx of city officials said Thursday.
"The next time something goes down, we will be prepared," Frey said in a City Hall news conference.
The statement marked the passing of a mundane milestone: A quarterly update of the city's "after-action report" on the violence and disorder that erupted from initially peaceful protests over Floyd's May 2020 murder under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
That report, released in March 2022, concluded that the city — and Frey in particular — failed to implement the city's emergency plans. Over the course of 10 days across the metro area, at least two people died, one police station was torched, and more than 1,500 businesses sustained an estimated $500 million in damage, while some Minneapolis residents and business owners felt abandoned and forced to fend for themselves.
Saying he wasn't shying away from those conclusions, Frey said the progress report — a checklist of where the city stands in implementing 27 recommendations of the after-action report — is a "source of humble pride."
He also emphasized that the city isn't bulletproof. "We can still be 100% prepared and still be overwhelmed," he said, drawing an analogy to wildfire-fighting units in the American West.
Incident command 'reset'
Implementing the checklist has involved every city department, officials said, and Frey was flanked Thursday by officials who included Police Chief Brian O'Hara, Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander, Emergency Management Director Barret Lane, Fire Chief Bryan Tyner and interim City Operations Officer Heather Johnston.
The image was noteworthy in that in the time since Floyd's murder, O'Hara and Alexander have been hired — Alexander to a position that didn't previously exist — Tyner was appointed to his post, and Johnston's title and responsibilities have changed.
Much of the work, officials said, has involved clarifying and cementing who's in charge of what in a city emergency, whether it's unrest or a natural disaster.
That question is connected to the city's continuing re-organization into a so-called "strong mayor" system after the change was approved by voters in 2021. That's been helpful, several officials said, but the process has been laborious, as much of the proving grounds for changes involves hourslong training sessions or simulations.
A major component of clarifying those roles involves what officials have described as a reset of the city's entire command structure for dealing with major events. The goal, they said, is to have the city put its renovated structure to a stress test in 2024 to ensure it aligns with a national standard known as the "national incident command system."
"Today is not about a flashy announcement, but the nitty gritty," said Frey, noting that command structure was among the numerous breakdowns during the 2020 unrest. "One of the biggest lessons I've learned is the areas I should be involved with and the areas I shouldn't be involved."
What does it look like?
If mass protests involving thousands were to break out across the city tomorrow, it's not exactly clear how the response would differ from that in 2020 — but officials said it would be different.
The use of less-lethal munitions, for example, has been restricted among police officers. O'Hara, who was a deputy chief of police in Newark, N.J., at the time of the 2020 riots, said communication with the community has improved as well.
O'Hara and others said elements of the new systems have already been used, although details might be largely invisible to the public.
Many of the 27 recommendations relate to how departments, hierarchies and bureaucracies within the city communicate with each other and the public, and to how to codify those processes so they continue despite personnel changes.
Officials pointed to two recent examples when various parts of the changes were implemented: Operation Memphis, Minneapolis' preparation for unrest following the release of Memphis police video of the arrest of Tyre Nichols, who was assaulted by police and died, and Operation Endeavor, the police response in high-crime areas during recent spikes in violent crime and shootings.
Alexander said the fact that Minneapolis was at the epicenter of unrest that then spread across the nation and overseas has underscored the city's sense of responsibility to guard against future violence.
"Today, we're uniquely equipped," he said.
Many of the changes are distinct from those demanded under an anticipated federal consent decree and settlement with the state over how Minneapolis polices its streets and neighborhoods within human rights laws and standards. Those changes are more likely to focus on racially charged interactions, culture among police officers and community relations.
The progress report will be formally presented to the City Council next week.