Updated: 12:30 p.m. | Posted: 10:55 a.m.
More than 1,000 officers in the Twin Cities area are training on how best to handle demonstrators in the wake of the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by St. Anthony police in Falcon Heights.
Officers are learning more about constitutional rights of protesters, practicing tactics for making arrests when necessary and hearing about what to do if they are attacked verbally or physically, the Pioneer Press reported.
Protesters watch police clean up I-94 after the police clear protester off the road. Police then moved the rest of the marchers off the bridge after the shutdown protest on July 9, 2016. Christopher Juhn for MPR News
“It’s a tough balance because we want people to be able to express whatever their issue is, even if it’s an anti-government or anti-police message, but we want to see that done in a manner that the public and protesters and the officers are all safe when that happens,” St. Paul Police Senior Cmdr. Steve Frazer said.
In the two months since Philando Castile was killed, hundreds of people have gathered in St. Paul for protests, and marches have shut down traffic. Officers are under heightened scrutiny as demonstrators question systemic police practices.
“With current events, we want to make sure that everyone is ready,” Frazer said.
On July 9, three days after Castile was killed, hundreds of people marched onto Interstate 94 in St. Paul, shutting down traffic for hours. Police said officers were pelted with cement chunks, bottles, rocks and other items. Over 20 officers were injured, and officers arrested about 50 people.
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St. Paul police spray a protester who got too close to the police line during the I-94 shutdown on July 9, 2016, that Black Lives Matter Minneapolis planned in response to the Falcon Heights police killing of Philando Castile. Christopher Juhn for MPR News
Demonstrators have been critical of the rationale for arrests and say the crowd gets amped up with the large police presence.
“I think automatically they go to a military response,” said Jason Sole, chair of the Minneapolis NAACP Criminal Justice Reform Task Force. “You’re really going to beat us with sticks? To come out there ready with helmets, ready for an element that doesn’t exist, it makes people escalate.'”
About half of those being trained are from the Saint Paul Police Department, and the rest are from 15 other agencies.
Most of the nearly $1.8 million the city spent on Castile protests as of Aug. 19 was used for police staffing. A police spokesman says there is no cost to the city for the training that’s now underway, and the St. Paul police department isn’t charging other agencies for their officers to attend.