To provide better police service in its parks, the Three Rivers Park District is planning to add police stations to three parks -- including one in Prior Lake -- and change the way it assigns officers throughout the 18-park system.

In January, the district plans to reduce the size of its police beats to speed up response time and save fuel.

Each of the district's 28 officers now patrols eight or nine parks on foot or by bike, boat, horse, electric scooter, all-terrain vehicle or even cross-country skis.

Under the new deployment plan, each officer will cover only two to three parks and spend less time driving between locations, said Police Chief Hugo McPhee.

The park district includes two Scott County parks: Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage and Cleary Lake Regional Park in Prior Lake.

Parks that have had police offices and officers stationed within their borders generally see almost immediate response times, McPhee said.

So to get faster response times in other parks, the district will add police offices in St. Anthony, Minnetrista and Prior Lake. It has existing offices in Maple Grove, Plymouth, Maple Plain-Medina and Eden Prairie.

The change is expected to deliver response times in the five-to-10-minute range, McPhee said. The move should also save fuel used in traveling between parks.

"The park district has been moving toward more sustainable ways of doing business,'' McPhee said. "In public safety, we are downsizing our vehicles so we get better gas mileage'' and cutting down on officer travel.

The most common incidents reported in the park system during the quarter from July through September were after-hours violations (188), animal complaints (144) and parking complaints (279). During that same time frame, there were reports of 22 thefts, 36 fishing offenses, one assault, 32 bike complaints and 61 disc golf violations.

Park police are dispatched by Hennepin County. If a park patron calls 911, the call goes to the closest city, and if the city wants the park police to respond, it must forward the call to the county, McPhee said.

But he said the district encourages local police to respond to park incidents when they think it is "in the interest of service to victims and apprehension of suspects.''

The goal is to "keep people safe and ultimately identify and arrest criminals,'' McPhee said. "We can sort out who is responsible for the investigation after the fact.''

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711