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Police take over fairgrounds to train for convention

Seeing police patrol cars around Farmington is nothing out of the ordinary. But when a stream of squads from Minneapolis, St. Paul and several other communities around the metro area tied up traffic around Ash Street Monday morning, well, that was just a bit unusual.

The squads were all headed to one location -- the Dakota County Fairgrounds. They were there to train to provide security for the 2008 Republican National Convention in Saint Paul.

Scheduled for Sept. 1-4, the 2008 RNC is projected to bring thousands of politicians, staff members and supporters to the Twin Cities.

It will also likely draw thousands of protesters, groups like the RNC Welcoming Committee who are using the Internet to share their plans to blockade the convention and tie up the streets in the metro area.

With public safety in mind, St. Paul Police commander Doug Holtz, the department's RNC public affairs spokesperson, said there have been several training sessions for officers in the last year. The sites for those sessions are spread throughout the state, and training will continue right up to the beginning of the convention, Holtz said.

So far, well over 50 law enforcement agencies that have joined the SPPD in preparing for the convention with up to 2,700 officers participating. As more cities pledge assistance, Holtz expects the number of officers available during the convention to reach 3,500. The St. Paul Police Department and the United States Secret Service are the lead agencies.

For security purposes, Holtz could not specify what kind of training was taking place at the fairgrounds. Every training session is different, covering multiple levels of security from bicycle patrols to venue security, communications, credentialing and aerospace security.

"We're training for a convention, not a catastrophe," Holtz said. "In preparation for the RNC, we are taking a look at the best practices we've gotten from around the country. We have seen what others have done and done well, or what they have done that could have been better.

"We have to plan for what we think is something we will have to deal with. Our main goal is a seamless security plan that creates a safe and secure venue for all the convention attendees. We do that obviously with the training and planning," he said.

To ensure security and confidentiality, entrances to the fairgrounds were barricaded Monday, and the grounds were closed to the public. While Holtz acknowledged there will be more training sessions prior to the convention, he would not say whether another will be held locally.

The 2008 RNC will be held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.