Security at Olmsted County Fair to be beefed up
By Janice Gregorson
Security at the Olmsted County Fair will be beefed up this year, but local authorities deny it has anything to do with gang-related incidents that have marred other festivities this summer.
The fair kicks off Monday for a six-day run that could attract more than 120,000 people.
And it’s a popular gathering spot for young people, including gang members.
Mark Darnell, chief deputy with the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office, said they will have extra security on duty at the fair, but not necessarily out of concern about potential gang violence.
"We don’t expect any violence at the fair simply because of the presence of law enforcement," he said.
He said the fair is a popular gathering spot for young people, including gang members, but he added, "it’s no more a threat this year than normal."
The fairgrounds is a county site, so providing security falls to the sheriff’s department.
Still, Rochester police will have a presence.
Rochester Police Capt. Brian Winters said the city department is assigning some officers to the fair.
"We recognize the fair is a gathering spot for a lot of young people," he said. "We are assigning some of our school liaison officers and gang strike force officers to some fair duty."
These will be officers who can move freely throughout the fair and take enforcement action if necessary, both on the fairgrounds and off-site.
Winters denied that the increased enforcement is a direct response to recent gang-related events at Rochesterfest and the Fourth of July fireworks event.
"It’s just a simple recognition that the fair has always been a place of gathering for young people," he said, adding there is potential for some gang members to be present.
Darnell stressed that the potential for disputes between young people has long been present at the county fair because it is such a popular gathering spot. But, he emphasized, the threat is no greater this year than in past years.
Two years ago, Steve Thompson, the police department’s gang expert, spent every night at the county fair. He and another officer were on duty as gang officers, there to diffuse any problems between gang members. They were on duty when members of two rival gangs showed up.
Thompson said in a later interview that they followed them around until they left the fair.
"They got tired of us," he said.