When US marshals shot and killed a 32-year-old Black man named Winston Boogie Smith Jr. in a parking garage in Minneapolis’s Uptown neighborhood on June 3, 2021, the city was already in a full-blown policing crisis.

Around 300 officers had quit over the previous two years amid near-constant protests and public criticism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a member of the police force in May 2020. Intense debates over the Minneapolis Police Department’s budget raged, and some Minneapolis council members were elected after campaigning on a platform of defunding the police. Adding yet more strain to the shorthanded department, homicides had increased almost 30% across the US in 2020. Vital services were starting to fail—in the first half of 2021, response times to 911 calls in Minneapolis increased by 36%.  

Minneapolis had been at the vanguard of activism on policing and racial justice since Floyd’s death. After Smith’s killing, protests reignited all over the city—not only at public spaces, like the intersection where Floyd was murdered, but also in private ones, like the parking garage where Smith was shot. As demonstrations spread from the streets into shopping districts and parking lots, the cops couldn’t keep up. 

Into the void stepped private security groups. The number of new companies applying for licenses from the Minnesota Board of Private Detective and Protective Agent Services ballooned from 14 in 2019 to 27 in 2021. Beginning in 2020, many Minneapolis property owners hired these private security organizations, ostensibly to prevent property damage. But the organizations often ended up managing protest activity—a task usually reserved for police, and one for which most private security guards are not trained.

According to documents obtained by MIT Technology Review through public records requests, there are 13 private security guards for every one police officer in downtown Minneapolis. There are currently 172 security groups and individual detectives with active licenses in Minnesota, from private investigators to companies with sophisticated surveillance operations and thousands of employees. They offer a range of services focused on the protection of property and privately owned assets. Some are heavily armed, some rely on open-source intelligence, and many have relationships with police departments. 

And while the Minneapolis Police Department maintains public-facing policies for First Amendment activities like demonstrations and protests, there is no such requirement for private security groups. Similarly, police are accountable for their actions to the city government, and voters, whereas private groups are not. 

The Secret Police: An MIT Technology Review investigation

This is the fifth story in a series that offers an unprecedented look at the way federal and local law enforcement employed advanced technology tools to create a total surveillance system in the streets of Minneapolis, and what it means for the future of policing.You can find the full series here.

In our look at over 400 documents, we found that during the protests after Smith was shot, several private organizations were providing security services at and around the parking garage where the killing took place, including We Push for Peace and W&W Protection. One company, Conflict Resolution Group, came up repeatedly. 

The documents reveal that Conflict Resolution Group (CRG) regularly provided Minneapolis police with information about activists that was at times untrue and politicized. CRG also intimidated activists and revealed the identity of protesters; anonymous protest has been consistently upheld by the Supreme Court as a constitutionally protected activity. The Minneapolis Police Department referred the group to other businesses, despite concerns within the department about its behavior.

The city of Minneapolis, like many cities, maintains ties with many private security groups. A public-private partnership through the city’s Downtown Improvement District connects private security groups with police departments and businesses, and provides information-sharing infrastructure like radio equipment and regular meetings. 

But CRG stands out for the prominent and controversial role it has played in the city’s reckoning with racism and police violence. From July through at least December 2021, the organization maintained a presence at the garage where Smith was killed, which had become a frequent protest site. The group’s tactics caused some protesters to fear for their personal safety. On its website, the group publicly touts its military-style operation, stating that it “​​specializes in all facets of high threat protection operations, surveillance, social media tracking and drone operations that were learned and honed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and in high threat permissive environments

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By: Tate Ryan-Mosley, Sam Richards
Title: The secret police: A private security group regularly sent Minnesota police misinformation about protestors
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/07/07/1055508/secret-police-private-security-group-minnesota-misinformation-protestors/
Published Date: Thu, 07 Jul 2022 13:00:00 +0000