ST. PAUL, Minn. – This year, keeping the Minnesota State Fair safe will go beyond just those who wear a badge.
Neighbors who live nearby are organizing their own volunteer patrols that will be a visible, and friendly, presence.
“Tensions get high [during the fair], especially, you know, when the parking is hard and people are anxious just to get in,” said Jennifer Victor-Larsen, one of the lead organizers of the effort.
More than 120 neighbors, many of whom live within a quarter-mile of the fairgrounds, have volunteered to walk shifts through the streets outside the fair.
“People do want to buy in on ways that they can help their neighbors and keep their own families safe,” said Kate McCreight, another lead organizer.
Victor-Larsen, McCreight and Cindy Mitsch felt compelled to organize the patrols because of violence in past years and other issues that rise above typical nuisances.
There’ll be block leaders called “connectors” with emergency text chains and daily email updates. The neighbors will have help if anything gets too tense.
“We’ll be out walking the neighborhoods, engaging with young people,” said Joel Franklin, the executive director of the Community Ambassadors Initiative. “If there are issues with young people, we’ll de-escalate it and intervene.”
The Community Ambassadors are a St. Paul nonprofit with years of experience doing youth outreach. They’ll be out every night of the fair from 5 p.m. to midnight.
McCreight says the patrols will wear neon-green T-shirts that say “How Can I Help? I’m A Neighbor.”
“People are usually out either parking cars or just talking to other neighbors during this time, so this is more making it a planned and concerted effort,” she said.
The patrols have the support of law enforcement. State officials said Tuesday the threat level for the fair is extremely low. There will be metal detectors and hundreds of officers inside and outside.