Mayor Frey says city has improved emergency response since Floyd murder

A man speaks at a podium
Mayor Jacob Frey speaks about progress on the after-action report on Thursday in Minneapolis.
Jon Collins | MPR News

Vowing that Minneapolis will be ready “the next time something goes down,” Mayor Jacob Frey trumpeted the progress he said city departments have made to address deficiencies in their response to civil unrest since George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in 2020. 

Of 27 recommendations identified in an after-action report released last year, Frey said city departments have fully addressed 17. Some of the most important changes, Frey said, have been tied to the “reset” of the city’s National Incident Management System planning, which is intended to coordinate emergency responses.

Frey said the changes are being made through training, exercises and a capstone course he expects to launch by 2024.

“This is about learning from our mistakes, this is about how we’re prepared when an emergency strikes,” Frey said. “This is making sure that the channels of communication and direction are live and open from the very beginning, so no matter what happens, we as a city are ready.” 

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The after-action review was done by risk management consultants Hillard Heintze and released in March 2022. Among the key findings of the report were that Frey’s office didn’t properly implement the city’s emergency operations plan and that Minneapolis police, then led by former Chief Medaria Arradondo, “did not develop any formal crisis response plans, nor did it engage in any formal planning efforts to respond to the protests.”

The mayor said Minneapolis has done better with emergency management recently, including during snow emergencies, a water main break and safety preparations after Tyre Nichols was killed by police in Memphis.

He said he’s proud of the improvements to how the city functions, but that "this work is ongoing and it's not going to finish once we have completed all 27 of these recommendations."

Frey attributes the progress to the city’s new government structure, which gives the mayor more executive power. He said any changes the city makes voluntarily based on these after-action recommendations would not conflict with the likely federal consent decree, which is an agreement that would require changes to policies and practices of the MPD.

Another portion of the after-action report touched on the public’s impression of the law enforcement response to the unrest, especially the use of so-called non-lethal weapons against protesters.

Minneapolis Chief Brian O'Hara said his officers now know that force should be a last resort, “and that we will ensure that we protect people's First Amendment rights constantly.”

A report released late last year shows that the Minneapolis Police Department has updated policies about use of force, crowd control and “less-lethal” weapons seven times since Floyd’s killing. Among the new policies are one that only allows members of SWAT to carry 40 mm launchers during civil unrest unless officers are authorized by a chief.  

Among the recommendations still in process are a revamping of the city’s emergency communications. The after-action report found that unreliable information released by the city, including a false description of Floyd’s killing in a press release titled “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction,” contributed to the public’s distrust of the department. 

Interim City Operations Officer Heather Johnston said the city has been working since September to develop a citywide crisis communications plan for a variety of events, including infrastructure failures, police incidents and public health crises like COVID-19.

Frey said the changes at the city won’t interfere with a court enforceable agreement with the state or a likely federal consent decree, which would both require policy and practice changes to the Minneapolis Police Department. The city’s quarterly report to the Minneapolis City Council is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.