The son of a Minneapolis Park Police sergeant, Jason Ohotto grew up wanting to be the same thing. Sunday he’ll go a significant step further, becoming chief of the 33-officer department.

Ohotto, 43, grew up in Bloomington, graduated from Metropolitan State University in 1998 and earned a master’s in public and non-profit administration in 2003. He has been a patrol agent, officer, sergeant, lieutenant and captain since 1998. Along the way he was honored for apprehending a murder suspect in Powderhorn Park, capturing an armed suspect in Peavey Park, arresting a drug dealer in Elliot Park and  resucitating an overdose victim in Matthews Park.  

In a phone interview, Ohotto fielded a few questions about the job and the department.

What are the biggest challenges ahead?

Employee turnover, he said. Five retirements this year will cost the department experience and knowledge, not to mention the cumulative training time, Ohotto said. “For a small agency, that’s a significant challenge,” he said.

What are the distinctions between the Park Police and the Minneapolis Police Department?

The bosses, Ohotto said: Park Police work for parks commissioners, while city police work for the mayor and city council. City police spend a lot of their day responding to calls from citizens, while Park Police spend a lot of time working with park staff and users. “That being said, we have a mission that is really mutually beneficial to one another,” Ohotto said. “We’re all interested in making Minneapolis safe, catching criminals and doing all that stuff.”

What park ordinance is most frequently violated, or the one most people seem unaware of (if they’re different)?

Drinking alcohol illegally in the parks, and letting dogs run off-leash. “Those are real minor crimes, but they’re also crimes that drive a large number of our complaints,” Ohotto said.

People also seem largely unaware of park hours, Ohotto said. Developed parks are closed between midnight and 6 a.m.; undeveloped parks, such as wild areas along the Mississippi River and areas without paths and lighting, are closed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

By the way, Ohotto pointed out, it is legal to drink alcohol in the parks, but only if it’s 3.2 beer, and only if the drinkers have a special permit and a special area to drink in, and a park police officer is present. So, no jug of wine and thou? Nope, Ohotto said.

“Alcohols fuels more serious crimes if left uncontrolled,” Ohotto said. “The more serious crimes – domestic assaults, robberies – most of the time the people commiting those crimes are alcohol-impaired. We treat alcohol enforcement seriously. It’s a liveability offsense. Our aim is to make sure that by enforcing something that’s viewed as minor, or relatively petty, we prevent that from turning into something more serious."

Photo: Jason Ohotto. Courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.