For the first time in nearly four decades, there's a new top cop at the Minnesota State Fair.
Art Blakey retired last year after 37 years as the chief of the fair's police force; he passed away earlier this summer. Blakey's one-time deputy, Paul Paulos, has now succeeded him. With about 2 million visitors attended the fair each year — as well as a full slate of offseason events on the grounds — there's a lot to keep track of.
"You know when you have a city this size — and that's what I call it, a city for 12 days — we respond to everything that a normal police officer would, from the simple directional call, traffic stop to maybe some domestics, a theft call, things of that nature," Paulos said. "So whatever can happen out in the city, it happens in our city."
Paulos was 16 when he received a call from Blakey about working at the fair; Paulos was from a law enforcement family, and knew Blakey.
"(He said) 'Hey kid, I have a job for you.' And so I was so excited, because I actually thought I was going to be a policeman," Paulos recalled. "And he said, 'Make sure you buy a pair of black pants and a white shirt and get out here.' So I did, thinking I was going to be a policeman. And lo and behold, I was a (railroad crossing) arm operator. Back then, they had trains that drove through the grounds, so I did that for several years."
Paulos was a 16-year-old crossing guard.
But he wasn't wrong about being a cop, it turned out. Blakey eventually did hire him to be a police officer at the fair, just a few years later. Paulos later went on to be an officer in Maplewood, and then a patrol officer and sergeant for the police in St. Paul.
He retired from there in April and took over at the fairgrounds, where he heads a staff of about 215 during fair time. For those 12 days, its one of the biggest police forces in the state, responding to all kinds of calls on the fairgrounds.
And among the biggest challenges, Paulos said, is just getting people to handle those calls. Almost none of the work is permanent or full-time, and he can't just hire off the street. State Fair police officers are armed. And they're licensed and trained like any other officer, so Paulos has to work hard to recruit mainly from among the ranks of other departments.
"It really starts right after the fair ends," he said. "We start looking at what we did right, how can we improve it? We start — thank God for social media — because it helps us in a recruitment way that we never had before. It used to be by mailings, but now we're on Facebook, Twitter — all the social platforms that we can get out and recruit people from around the area."
Paulos has officers from more than 70 other agencies around Minnesota for this year's fair.
That adds to the challenge of running a professional police force. Even with a constantly changing staff, Paulos has to figure out and institute policies and standards like any other department. He's weighing body cameras, for instance, and decided to make a uniform change this year to an all dark-blue version that he said projects a more professional image.
And the fair isn't just the fair anymore. The grounds have become a year-round venue that demands constant attention.
"We have 54 year-round staff, and over 300 events out here now during the off season, so the fair is a very, busy place," he said.
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