MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The unprecedented riots of 2020 forced first responders in the Twin Cities to examine at how they work together, and how they’ll respond in the future.

Damage impact in the capitol city from the fires, looting and unrest could top $100 million. Since then, police and fire departments began working in coordination, in advance of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin across the river.

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“We’re spending more time training. And getting better doesn’t just happen in a vacuum, you have to spend time. You have to come together, mutual aid partners have to come together, train together,” Senior Commander Troy Greene with St. Paul Police said.

Greene leads the St. Paul Police Special Operations Unit. It formed in 2016 after seeing a need, after the death of Philando Castile by a St. Anthony officer.

“Our priorities are protecting people, protecting first amendment, freedom of speech, and protecting property,” Greene said.

The unit has been present for the nearly 300 protests and demonstrations in the capitol city since last May. Greene says the totality of what’s transpired since then has helped agencies better communicate, and share information.

“One of the things we learned this past Spring is there’s a real need to protect our firefighters during potential civil unrest,” Greene said.

The police and fire departments trained together over a span of six weeks. All 430 firefighters went through the training.

“Just making plans to make sure we are ready for any disturbances or unrest in the city of St. Paul,” Deputy Chief Roy Mokosso with St. Paul Fire said.

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Mokosso says situations arose during the 2020 unrest that made responding challenging.

“As crowds, temperaments changed, they had to quickly pick up and kind of drop what they were doing, and leave the area pretty quickly,” Mokosso said.

He says leaning into the coordinated effort has helped with things like security and logistics.

“The security presence that police provide enables us to focus on our job without looking over our shoulders or being concerned with threats to our firefighters. We feel that we are in a good position to be prepared to respond to any and all emergencies,” Mokosso said.

Other precautions exercised in St. Paul: fencing and barricades surround the law enforcement complex.

“If we can protect a building, brick and mortar, with a fence, that allows us as police officers to go out there and protect businesses, protect community members,” Greene said.

Greene says they communicate with groups planning to protest ahead of time, to share expectations, and to help facilitate.

“We’re expecting more peaceful protests here in St. Paul, and if anything else happens, if people have a different agenda, we’re prepared,” Greene said.

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Police are also working with business owners to prepare for potential unrest, and to talk about ways to protect staff and customers. The city has a website dedicated to updates on preparations. It includes upcoming safety sessions for business owners.

Jennifer Mayerle