Minnesota State Fair police fully staffed
200-officer hiring goal reached; other agencies to help out
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota State Fair, working with other law enforcement agencies, has reached its goal of hiring 200 officers, the fair’s police chief said Tuesday.
Chief Ron Knafla and the fair’s deputy general manager wrote to the Ramsey County sheriff earlier this month, saying they had 99 sworn officers lined up. They requested assistance from the sheriff’s office “to support our efforts to ensure the health and safety of State Fair attendees.”
Sheriff Bob Fletcher said 40 deputies will be working at the fair, in addition to Minnesota State Patrol troopers and officers from other agencies.
The Great Minnesota Get-Together, running from Aug. 25 to Sept. 5, is expected to draw attendance numbers similar to 2019, when there were more than 2 million visitors during the 12-day event, Knafla and Deputy General Manager Brian Hudalla wrote to Fletcher.
“Safety and security are the Minnesota State Fair’s top priority, and our goal is to create a safe and secure environment for everyone,” Knafla said in a Tuesday statement.
Last year, just over 1.3 million people attended the fair, the lowest attendance in 44 years and the result of concern over the delta variant of COVID-19 and poor weather during the first three days.
A Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office report showed there also were fewer calls for service compared with previous years. Most calls were for assistance and non-law enforcement matters, including medical problems from the heat or from dehydration, missing children, being locked out of a vehicle and lost property.
There have been security incidents on the final night of the fair the last two years it was held.
Staff members were closing the fair’s gates last year and one gate “became overrun … by approximately 50 people,” according to a sheriff’s office report requested and obtained by Public Record Media. The report also said a worker saw a man with a gun during the incident. A deputy used a handheld chemical agent, similar to mace, to disperse the crowd.
The fair was not held in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, a fight just outside the state fairgrounds ended with a 19-year-old critically injured when she was struck by a passing vehicle and three young men wounded by gunfire.
The State Fair police department “has developed and implemented a comprehensive security plan,” which includes metal detectors and bag checks at entry gates, law enforcement officers from throughout the state on patrol around the clock, security cameras and more, according to Knafla.
Police department reestablished
The topic of who’s in charge of policing at the fair has recently been contentious.
When the fair disbanded its own police department, the Ramsey County sheriff’s office took over last year. The Ramsey County Board had reservations, with commissioners saying they were mostly concerned about liability, but they ultimately signed off on an agreement.
The sheriff’s office work at the fair last year brought in about $500,000 in revenue for the county, according to Fletcher.
Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer wrote to then-County Board Chairwoman Toni Carter and Fletcher in October that he was requesting the agreement for the sheriff’s office to provide law enforcement for the State Fair “be continued into the future.”
In November, Carter wrote to Gov. Tim Walz that there is a “need for a long-term, state-coordinated solution” and recommended the state “explore alternative security arrangements that are coordinated by the state.” The State Fair announced in December that it was reestablishing its own police department.
At the time of their Aug. 4 letter to Fletcher, Knafla and Hudalla said they were “continuing to recruit and hire.”
“Our hiring process has been continuous and ongoing, which improved our overall staffing numbers,” Knafla said in a Tuesday statement. “The assistance from both the Minnesota State Patrol and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s office also helped us to reach our goal. One item of note, almost 80% of our State Fair officers are returning employees.”
Though they’ve reached the fair’s hiring goal for officers, Knafla said it’s “always a challenge as we are only a 12-day event.”
“It has been a bit more difficult this year as we are struggling with the same issues as other law enforcement agencies throughout the state and the country with recruiting and hiring of law enforcement officers,” he added.
Fletcher said Tuesday that the efforts the fair police department’s had to undertake to find officers this year “would never have occurred” if the county board allowed the sheriff’s office to remain in charge of law enforcement at the fair.
However, the county board did not receive a request for a joint-powers agreement for the sheriff’s office to provide services for this year’s State Fair, Board Chairwoman Trista MatasCastillo said at Tuesday’s board meeting. An agreement that was in place through June 30 was intended to allow the reestablished State Fair Police to get up and running, she said.
The deputies who will be working at the State Fair this year are covered by a mutual aid agreement, which doesn’t need approval from the county, said County Manager Ryan O’Connor.
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