Civilians organizing armed patrols in an attempt to help law enforcement will actually hinder them, according to the Rapid City Police Department.
“We appreciate any support for law enforcement, but we want to be able to do our job, and we don't want anybody to try to do our job,” Lt. Andy Becker told the Journal Monday morning.
Becker said armed civilians preemptively patrolling businesses could actually encourage protesters who had no plans to show up. He also said armed civilians shouldn’t try to help law enforcement if any violent protest does break out.
“We need to be able to do our job, to contain the problem and issue, and having folks threatening to take matters into their own hands actually only makes it harder for us to do the job,” he said.
Becker spoke to the Journal in the parking lot outside of the old Sears at the Rushmore Mall where several dozen members of the Defend RCPD/Rapid City Facebook group gathered at 11 a.m.
The members — some carrying handguns on their belts — were met by Becker, the department's community relations specialist, a deputy from the Pennington County Sheriff's Office and the mall manager.
Members of the private group — which had more than 5,500 members by Monday afternoon after being created on Sunday — are sharing rumors they’ve heard about outsiders arriving in cars or buses to riot in Rapid City.
“Just heard a rumor,” “have been told,” “I have already heard from several sources,” some posts begin. Other members are sharing information about what kind of ammunition and weapons they own, or asking to borrow gear.
"We are aware of rumors posted on social media about out-of-state looters/rioters coming to Rapid City," the police department said on its social media pages Monday afternoon. "We have found no evidence to substantiate these claims."
Some protesters rioted Sunday night in Sioux Falls but rumors of busloads of out-of-town protesters being involved also appears to have been a false rumor. The city's police chief said law enforcement monitored for buses but found no evidence of them, according to a Twitter post from reporter Jeremy Fugleberg.
“The right communications are being made,” Becker said when a man asked if the National Guard is on standby like it was in Sioux Falls on Sunday.
The mall shut down around 12:45 p.m., according to its Facebook Page. And some downtown business owners prepared for riots after being advised to do so by the police department.
"Main Street Square and Downtown Rapid City has been advised by the Rapid City Police Department to relay the following suggestions. The intent is not to cause concern but rather to educate on ways to assist our small business owners in the event of a disruption," the organizations said in an email to members.
The department recommended business bring outside items — such as furniture and flower pots — inside, store their cash, move high-value items away from the windows, and remove loose bricks outside their buildings by noon.
During the meeting outside the mall, people said they were upset about the killing of George Floyd, support peaceful protests but are against rioting, and wanted to show their support for law enforcement.
Business owners said they don’t want their businesses to be damaged and Becker said they have the right to defend their businesses.
The Defend RCPD/Rapid City Facebook group was founded by Kenneth Dirk, a 38-year-old from Rapid City.
“If you talk to anybody in the country, that was wrong,” Dirk said about how a former Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Dirk said he supports peaceful but not violent protests and that he saw a video from Sioux Falls of people talking about wanting to come riot in Rapid City.
“That sparks a concern because I don't want to see that happen here,” he said.
Becker said the Rapid City Police Department feels the same way about peaceful protests vs. riots.
“They have every right to be peaceful and protest about the (Floyd) incident if they're feeling hurt,” he said. ‘We just don’t want it to escalate like it has in other cities.”
Dirk said his plan was to stand in front of law enforcement in the event of a riot. He pointed to footage of unarmed protesters doing the same in Sioux Falls as some other protesters began to throw rocks at officers. Dirk said he is always armed so he would bring his gun with him.
I want law enforcement to know “they’re not alone,” he said.
“I hope people are responsible” Dirk said when asked if he hopes group members avoid the armed patrols Becker spoke out against.
— Contact Arielle Zionts at email@example.com.
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