State Fair stabbing was an aberration, police say

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 28, 2012 - 2:51 PM

For the 225 officers on patrol, a typical day tends to be filled with lost children or medical calls.

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Police adjust crime scene tape at the intersection of Dan Patch Ave and Cooper St. on the state fair grounds in Falcon Heights where a knife stabbing incident occurred Sunday evening.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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A stabbing at the Minnesota State Fair on Sunday evening alarmed fairgoers, but on a typical day the 225 officers who patrol the grounds are more likely to be preoccupied with reuniting lost children with parents, responding to medical calls or giving directions to this booth or that building.

The State Fair police department has received about 500 calls in the first five days of the fair. About three-fourths were for medical calls and lost children, said police officials. Just three were for fights or assaults.

Although exact numbers were not available Monday, State Fair police said that, historically, they see few serious crimes during the annual festival's 12-day run.

"Yesterday was the most serious thing I've seen," said State Fair police officer Laurel Tollefson, a 10-year fair veteran who supervises officers.

Narypeo Chap and Sarasovarn Sourng, both 28, suffered non-life threatening stab wounds in their abdomens about 6:15 p.m. Sunday near the Merchandise Mart building after a fight, police said.

Neither man is cooperating with the investigation, police said, but it doesn't appear that they stabbed each other.

Investigators also do not believe the attack was random. No weapons were recovered, despite an extensive search, and no arrests had been made as of Monday evening.

Crowds of witnesses

Police officers and officials point to a couple of key reasons for the dearth of serious crime at the fair: The large number of attendees discourages bad behavior, and fairgoers are a self-selecting group focused on other activities.

"The nice thing about all of these people is that there are a lot of witnesses," said Goodhue County sheriff's deputy Nathan Timm, who has worked security at the fair since 2004.

"Most people are coming out here to have a good time, not to get into things," said his partner, State Fair police officer Timbutu Wilkerson.

Hours after Sunday's incident, a woman went into labor in a bathroom between the DNR building and the beer garden.

On Monday, an elderly woman had a minor medical issue. Timm responded to both, and said such calls are more representative of the work he does.

Tom Evangelist stumbled on a curb Monday, scraping his leg and drawing help from Timm and Wilkerson.

Evangelist, a Minneapolis resident who has been attending the fair for about 70 years, said he felt safe despite Sunday's incident.

"I think it's terrific," he said. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't. We got crazy people; they're going to do something."

"I don't think there's any reason to be concerned because of one incident," said his friend, John Nawrocki.

State Fair Police Chief Art Blakey Jr. said the last stabbing at the fair was in 2007 when a man was cut on the arm in front of the Midway.

Officers from across state

The State Fair has 50 officers of its own and hires officers from across the state during the fair, reaching a total of 225 officers. Agencies from Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul and many others make up the force. Officers patrol the grounds, which are divided into five zones, in four shifts.

Timm's and Wilkerson's zone includes the Midway and beer garden, considered the busiest areas for unruly behavior.

The officers work the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, and said that on occasion they're forced to kick out patrons for being too drunk, although they'll try to get them a ride home first.

The State Fair police station is equipped with a temporary jail where any inmates are briefly held before being shipped to the Ramsey County jail or detox center. Exact numbers of people detained so far this year were not available Monday, but Timm said they are not high.

"For a crowd this size, it's pretty surprising how relaxed it is," he said.

About 1.7 million people have attended the fair each year the past several years.

St. Paul Police Senior Commander Todd Axtell, who oversees the Western District, which abuts the fairgrounds, said major crime in the surrounding area also tends to drop during the fair. (Parking citations tend to pick up, however.)

"The reason I'm not surprised is because there are so many people around, and that is actually one of the biggest crime prevention measures a community can have," said Axtell, who oversees traffic and pedestrian control outside the fairgrounds. "Criminals know that their biggest advantage is anonymity."

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

  • 225

    Total number of officers in the State Fair police department:

    27

    Number of sheriff's and police agencies across the state represented in the force

    501

    Police reports written for the 2011 fair

    259

    Number of medical reports in 2011

    4

    Number of assault/fight reports in 2011

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