County approves pact for Ramsey County Sheriff's Office to police Minnesota State Fair

A crowd of people at the fair.
A crowd packs onto the street on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair in 2019.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2019

Updated: July 28, 2:42 p.m. | Posted: July 27, 4:44 p.m.

There’s a new top cop at the Minnesota State Fair this year: Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher’s office will be running police services, after months of uncertainty about public safety there. 

The fair decided to disband its own police department after the chief retired earlier this year. Talks between fair officials and nearby law enforcement agencies eventually settled on the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction over the fairgrounds and provides public safety services to nearby Falcon Heights. 

Ramsey County commissioners discussed reservations as they approved the deal during a regular meeting Tuesday. 

County commissioner Jim McDonough said he'd support the plan for now. "I think we need to have conversations — what does this look like next year? Certainly Ramsey County as the host and closest public agency, we have a role in that, but who really manages that, in my opinion, needs to be probably a much more robust conversation with the [Minnesota] Department of Public Safety and the state and legislators." 

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Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire expressed some concern about a $10 million cap on the fair's liability, given large recent settlements following fatal encounters with police in Minneapolis. In March, the Minneapolis City Council agreed to pay $27 million to the family of George Floyd. 

McGuire said fights at the Anoka County Fair prompted the sheriff there to shut it down last weekend. “How are we preparing our fair for these kinds of things that have never happened before?” she asked. 

Fletcher said security would be robust. He also responded to commissioners’ questions about the workload on his deputies, saying he hoped to recruit other officers from around the state, much like the fair police had done previously. Fletcher added that his deputies would continue to patrol other suburbs, where they have an existing policing contract. 

The deal calls for the sheriff to have nearly 200 officers a day working at the fair, at the rate of $80 an hour and $100 an hour on Labor Day — although the sheriff's deputies union says officers will only be paid regular wages, in some cases less than half that rate. The sheriff's office will provide administrative support, including records and reports, body cameras and video storage, radios and squad vehicles.

The State Fair is providing a police station — to be surrounded by security fencing — as well as storage, golf carts, parking and gate passes, among other things. State troopers will work at the entrances, which also will have metal detectors this year. 

The fair opens Aug. 26