George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May 2020 and the police shooting of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center in April 2021 each sparked civil unrest that resulted in deaths and injuries in both cities, as well as significant property damage.
Police and city leaders were criticized for how police handled both situations, but most vociferously about the abandonment and burning of the Minneapolis Third Precinct police station.
The station’s perimeter was unprotected and vulnerable to violent protestors. Eventually, police abandoned the building and those protestors set it ablaze.
Consortium draws 28 members
Eden Prairie has joined a group of 28 cities and agencies attempting to mitigate something they hope will never happen. The so-called fencing consortium is leasing 3,500 linear feet of fencing similar to that used to surround the U.S. Capitol building following the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
The consortium has named a five-member board of directors to lease the fencing to be stored by the vendor at an as yet undisclosed location.
A contract to lease the fencing has been completed, according to Ward Parker, Eden Prairie Fire Department operations manager and consortium board member. He was assigned to the board by the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association to represent the fire service for the fencing consortium.
Parker told EPLN that no specific delivery date has been determined. Initially, the consortium had hoped to have fencing delivered within three or four months of signing a contract. Parker was uncertain of that date or of the final cost.
The consortium asked the state Legislature to contribute $5 million to the project but was denied in the 2022 legislative session. Crystal Public Works Director Mark Ray told the Star Tribune last fall that the consortium plans to ask again this year because the cost has prevented some communities from joining. Ray was among a group who brainstormed the idea of having cities collectively buy or lease fence.
Some 50 agencies have expressed interest in being a part of the consortium, and the consortium plans to go forward with or without state funding, said Ray.
Here is a list of consortium members as of November 2022:
Blaine, Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Chaska, Columbia Heights, Cottage Grove, Crystal, Eden Prairie, Edina, Federal Aviation Administration/Metropolitan Airports Commission, Fridley, Hopkins, Maplewood, Minnetonka, New Brighton, New Hope, North St. Paul, Oakdale, Osseo, South Lake Minnetonka, Spring Lake Park, St. Anthony, St. Louis Park, St. Paul Police headquarters, Stillwater, Washington County Sheriff, White Bear Lake, and Woodbury.
EP requires most fence
Eden Prairie’s plan is to surround both the City Center building and nearby Fire Station 1, according to Eden Prairie Police Capt. Chris Wood, who represents Eden Prairie in the consortium.
That plan makes Eden Prairie the largest potential user of the fencing in case of an emergency.
Assuming the perimeter around the City Center would include the police department parking lot on the east side of the building, and that Fire Station 1 would be surrounded separately, EPLN used Google Earth measurement tools to estimate that it would require at least 3,200 of the total of 3,500 linear feet of fencing being leased. More fencing would be needed if a single perimeter connected both buildings.
Wood declined to confirm the exact location of fencing, citing security concerns.
Estimates call for participating cities to pay between $5,000 and $16,000 a year to maintain and store fencing at a metro warehouse, Ray said in the Star Tribune story. The cost would be determined by each city’s needs to encircle its police department. That would put Eden Prairie in the $16,000 range annually, EPPD’s Wood acknowledged. The consortium’s assumption is that only one or maybe two cities would need to deploy at the same time.
The fencing is not available for concerts or planned protests, but exclusively for so-called “no notice” events that arise spontaneously, Ray told the Star Tribune.
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.
A consortium information sheet calls the effort “The Great De-Escalator.”
“The intent of the Fencing Consortium is to provide anti-scale fencing within hours, not days, around potentially impacted government building(s) in response to a critical incident,” according to the information sheet. “The goal of the anti-scale fencing is to de-escalate the potential tensions and try to reduce/eliminate the non-tangibles associated with civil unrest.”
Some of those non-tangibles include providing a physical separation between law enforcement and protestors, reducing the need for crowd control measures, and “another tool for law enforcement to facilitate peaceful protests,” the sheet says.
Without a barrier, Wood said, confrontations between police and protesters are more likely to occur.
“Brooklyn Center did actually have fence deployed while the protests were going on up there,” Wood said. “And we saw … by putting the barrier there it takes away the direct contact that protesters have with the police. It just allows for more of, we’ll call it a free protest.”
Before fencing arrived in Brooklyn Center, a large number of police officers were required to secure their police department the whole time, Wood said. During larger scale incidents, protesters were throwing things at the officers, he said. “So just by having the fencing in place … completely takes away that interaction, which just makes it a much better situation for the protesters and the officers involved.”
Eden Prairie deployed 11 officers to Brooklyn Center on April 12, 2001, to assist with the protests that day, according to then-Police Chief Greg Weber. The city was one of several state, county, and municipal agencies to respond to requests for assistance. No Eden Prairie officers were injured or involved in any arrests.
How it would work
If a law enforcement agency needs the fence, its request would go to the consortium’s board which would need to approve the deployment. Then a team of staffers from each member agency would put up the fences.
“A team of people made up of employees from all the cities that are involved in the consortium will install the fencing,” Wood said, “So (employees from) public works, utilities, parks, and streets will be trained on how to install it.”
Wood said that the plan is to have fencing in place within 24 hours of a request. “I hope we never need it,” he said.
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