ST. PAUL — Who will police the Minnesota State Fair? The job has been passed around like a hot potato on a stick.
While the Ramsey County sheriff’s office is currently holding the stick, Sheriff Bob Fletcher said it’s likely going to take a team effort.
“We need to do everything in our power to make sure that the Great Minnesota Get-Together actually gets together,” Fletcher said.
The Ramsey County sheriff's office is in meetings this week to determine if they have the resources to patrol the State Fair.
Fair wants out of policing job
After nearly 40 years in law enforcement, the fair’s Chief of Police Paul Paulos announced his retirement May 18.
“My last day at the Minnesota State Fair will be over Memorial Day weekend,” he said in his letter of resignation. “This has truly been an adventure!”
He recommended the department get extra training and equipment upgrades to keep up with rising crime in the Twin Cities that sometimes spills onto the Fairgrounds.
State Fair general manager Jerry Hammer thanked Paulos for his leadership and service, but declined the recommendations and announced a change.
“For decades, the Minnesota State Fair has maintained its own police department to oversee law enforcement and security during the Fair and year-round at the Fairgrounds,” Hammer said. “We’ve determined that the most effective and efficient way to provide the best possible public safety is to partner with an outside agency.”
The fair is governed by the Minnesota State Agricultural Society, a public corporation, and it is ultimately the society’s responsibility to determine how to provide security to ensure the safety of its guests and vendors.
'No police, no fair'
The state’s Department of Public Safety gave the Fair Board three options: accept Paulos’ recommendations; connect with the University of Minnesota Police Department, whose property overlaps with the State Fair’s; and/or connect with the county sheriff's office since the Fair is in Ramsey County.
“DPS Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges told me, ‘If there’s no police, there’s no fair,'” Fletcher said.
The fair, which will resume this year after being canceled by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, has been shopping for an outside agency, without much luck.
The Minnesota State Patrol said no thanks.
“Given an alarming increase in traffic fatalities, troopers are not available to patrol the fair as they refocus on the agency’s core mission of traffic safety,” said Doug Neville, an agency spokesman. “In addition, the State Patrol is unable to take on the responsibilities of a police department under Minnesota law.”
The St. Paul Police Department said it is already stretched thin, but might be able to help outside the Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights.
“We told them that we do not have the capacity to do anything more than the traffic and pedestrian safety outside of the Fairgrounds,” said Steve Linders, a St. Paul police spokesman.
Another agency the fair could ask, is the U’s Public Safety Department. Officials there haven’t said no, but they haven’t been asked, either.
“In years past, off-duty UMPD officers have worked at the State Fair under the jurisdiction of the State Fair Police,” said Lacey Nygard, a UMPD spokeswoman. “But, at this time, UMPD has not received a formal request from the Fair’s Board of Managers to provide patrol assistance for the 2021 State Fair.”
A team effort desired
That leaves the Ramsey County sheriff’s office.
State Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington prematurely announced that Ramsey County would be taking the job.
“I have been informed that the Ramsey County sheriff’s office will be providing security for the Great Minnesota Get Together,” Harrington said in a statement Tuesday, May 25. “We are glad to hear that they were able to find an option for meeting their security needs.”
Not so fast, says Fletcher.
“We said we have to do our research,” Fletcher said. “We’ve made no commitments. There is no agreement at this point.”
Fletcher said the fair would need 200 officers each day to staff the event, which draws around 2 million people to its 322 acres.
The Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association has agreed to help, Fletcher said. He’s pushing for the State Patrol to staff the fair’s nine entrances.
“We will need help from other agencies,” he said. “No one department can afford to offer 200 officers. It needs to be a team effort.”
The 2021 State Fair is scheduled to run from Aug. 26 through Labor Day, Sept. 6.