Minnesota State Fair police have recruited far fewer officers than anticipated and are turning to the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office for help.

In a letter last week asking Sheriff Bob Fletcher for assistance, Chief Ron Knafla said his department has spent months re-establishing itself after being disbanded last year.

He said 99 officers have been recruited, well short of the goal of 200. Knafla said he expects more than 2 million people will attend the fair this year.

"Please accept this letter as an official request for assistance," Knafla said in his letter to Fletcher.

The request marks a rollercoaster two years for security at the State Fair.

However, the letter conflicts with an interview Thursday with State Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer, who said fair police have 170 officers and are in good shape.

"I've never felt better about our security and safety program," said Hammer, who has run the fair for a quarter century. Follow-up attempts to reach Hammer were not immediately successful.

After fair officials disbanded the Police Department last year when its chief retired, the Ramsey County Board reached a "one-time deal" with the Sheriff's Office to provide security. The fair's Police Department was later reinstated with Knafla, a former Sheriff's Office commander, at the helm.

County Board members expressed concerns about taking on too much liability last year when they provided security for the 12-day event. Knafla wrote Fletcher that the fair would be responsible for all liability and compensation this year.

In a statement, Knafla said he is confident that enough officers will be recruited before the fair starts Aug. 25. Sheriff's deputies would be paid $80 an hour for the job.

"The Minnesota State Fair has a longstanding tradition of working with a variety of law enforcement agencies and experts on the local, state and national level to provide safety and security for the annual State Fair," Knafla said. "As needed, we may also request support from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office."

Deputy Sheriff Alexander Graham confirmed that the Sheriff's Office would help and that deputies began signing up within minutes of being notified.

Graham said the Sheriff's Office will provide up to 40 deputies a day throughout the State Fair, not including 30 state troopers who will return to staff the fair gates.

The Sheriff's Office will also provide active shooter response teams staffed by SWAT team members in and around of the fairgrounds, as well as community ambassadors trained to de-escalate potentially violent situations.

"Part of the reason we're having to respond to this request is that the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners refused to sign the joint powers agreement, which would have left the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office in charge of policing at the State Fair," Graham said.

He said multiple law enforcement agencies would collaborate. "We're all going to work together to make sure the fair is as safe as it was in years past," Graham said.

A Ramsey County spokesperson disputed Graham's claim, saying in a statement that the Board had agreed to sign the joint powers agreement until June 30 and the sheriff had a chance to ask for an extension during their April 5 meeting.

County Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Star Tribune staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.