Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order Friday that will activate the Minnesota National Guard ahead of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in March.

The preparation of the National Guard is one of many steps the state is taking in anticipation of potential unrest around the trial, which is set to start March 8. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death last May.

Walz’s order allows the Guard to start preparing and coordinating to assist during the trial.

State officials have been preparing for months for Chauvin’s trial, along with the trial of the three other former Minneapolis officers involved in Floyd’s death, who are scheduled to be tried together in August.

Walz noted this week that in addition to peaceful protests, the trials will be a “magnet” for people who want to do more than just express their First Amendment rights.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington on Wednesday described how he started that day talking with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force about trial preparation, then met with Black church leaders in north Minneapolis about what they can do to protect their congregations and churches. He said he followed that with a conference call with 213 chief law enforcement officers about how the state and dozens of local law enforcement agencies will work together to block crime during the trial.

The state’s plan is different from how they handled civil unrest last summer, Harrington said, and they aren’t asking officers from around the state to be riot police. He said his message to outside agencies was: “If we do this the right way, you are going to come in and prevent crime and you are going to prevent disorder.”

Harrington said apart from when the Twin Cities hosted the 2008 Republican National Convention, Super Bowl LII and 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, “It’s never happened in my 40-plus year career where we’ve had to pull together this kind of multi-jurisdictional effort to keep the peace. This is an exceptional time.”

Walz has been pushing to create a $35 million fund that would be used, in part, to help reimburse local law enforcement agencies that send staff to assist in the Twin Cities during the trial. The idea has gotten push back from Republican legislators who say Minneapolis should cover such bills.

The state’s coordination of hundreds of law enforcement officers from different agencies comes as Minneapolis’s police force is down by about 200 officers. The department reported it had 877 police at the start of last year, and now has just 638 available to work.

Walz noted earlier this week that when he puts National Guard troops on the streets of Minneapolis, they need to be accompanied by other law enforcement. He stressed that they must have a sufficient number of law enforcement partnering with them during the trial.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey submitted a request last year asking that the Minnesota National Guard provide support around the March trial, Frey’s spokesman Mychal Vlatkovich said.

“[Frey’s] office has been participating in regular planning meetings with law enforcement agencies to help ensure strong and persistent lines of communication are open with all relevant partners,” Vlatkovich said in a statement. “At the same time, our team has been working alongside community to establish key outreach strategies before, during, and after the trial.”

Jessie Van Berkel

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