St. Paul police costs contribute to festival financial troubles

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As president of the Grand Avenue Business Association, Bob Lawrence is feeling confident that the Grand Old Day parade and street festival will return to St. Paul on June 7. Lawrence envisions a high school battle of the bands, oversize helium balloons, local restaurant booths and maybe a youth circus, wrestling and roller-derby performers.

And to keep the expected 200,000 spectators safe?

According to the city of St. Paul, that will require hiring 57 police officers, at costs that have more than doubled in three years. Grand Old Day’s security price tag totaled $20,285 in 2017, $20,530 in 2018 and $27,974 last year.

This year, policing Grand Old Day is projected to cost GABA $48,700. It’s an expense that has Lawrence wondering if there are any discounts, especially for an event that was almost called off in 2019 due to financial challenges.

“I have no idea how many cops should be here,” said Lawrence, a State Farm Insurance agent and former U.S. Army field medic. “If they say 57, I’m with them 100 percent. But give us a little love and help us out. I’d like to see the city recognize the additional revenue we’re bringing in and give us a little offset.”


Across St. Paul, street festivals are singing a similar tune.

Events that got by for years hiring off-duty St. Paul police officers as independent security contractors are now required to funnel requests through the St. Paul Police Department, which approves security plans and sets staffing expectations.

The changes apply to any events drawing 1,000 or more people to city streets and parks.

They come in the wake of incidents that have targeted public gatherings around the world, such as the mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival in 2017 and a motorist who drove into a street protest in Charlottesville, Va., the same year.

“Because the world has changed we have to adapt new practices,” said Assistant Police Chief Robert Thomasser. “The police department is planning these events to deal with threats that didn’t exist before.”

The department is not making money from the change — “this does not increase our budget or fund other initiatives,” Thomasser said. “This really has been an expectation of the (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security for these events.”


For some St. Paul events, hiring dozens of city officers at time-and-a-half pay amounts to a budget buster.

Highland Fest, a neighborhood tradition for 36 years, confirmed last weekend that it will not return to Highland Park this year, citing security costs as a significant factor.


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