Minneapolis Park Police chief sounds alarm on crime in encampments, says agency short on staff

The Minneapolis Police Department “is not in a position staffing-wise to pick up the slack of the encampments within the park system.”

Image credit: Twitter via @KyleHooten2

Minneapolis Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto said his agency has seen an increase in crime across several city parks with homeless encampments, but lacks the resources to adequately respond.

Between June 26 and July 9, Minneapolis Park Police received three reports of sexual assault in Powderhorn Park after the city’s Park and Recreation Board passed a resolution allowing the homeless population to seek “refuge” in public parks.

At its peak, Powderhorn Park was home to more than 850 people who had set up a 560-tent encampment, which was partially disbanded on July 20 due to safety concerns. However, criminal incidents at Powderhorn Park still outpace nearly every other encampment across the city, Ohotto said during a Wednesday night meeting.

Powderhorn Park is still home to an encampment, but the Park Board has limited the size of encampments to a maximum of 25 tents. The encampments spread to several other public parks after the Powderhorn disbandment.

“The first thing I need to say is that the public safety demands of the encampments continue to challenge Park Police staffing resources daily,” Ohotto told the Park and Recreation Board, noting that the Minneapolis Police Department “is not in a position staffing-wise to pick up the slack of the encampments within the park system.”

Ohotto said his department typically doesn’t have an overnight patrol in the Minneapolis park system.

“At this point, I don’t have resources or staffing to provide a third shift, but that is an emerging concern with having hundreds of people in our parks in the overnight hours,” he continued.

Both Peavey Park and Loring Park have seen an uptick in crime, including serious assaults, over the last several days, he said.

Ohotto then displayed a list of offense reports from Powderhorn Park between July 17 and 31, which included a rape, domestic assault, arson, and a missing person report, among other things.

“There was another sexual assault on July 30 within the park. Our officers did respond and we arrested a suspect. Notably, that suspect had an outstanding parole violation from the Minnesota Department of Corrections for rape as well. That is the second person we’ve arrested for sexual assault within the Powderhorn encampment that has had a parole violation warrant for sexual assault,” said Ohotto.

Loring Park has experienced seven incidents since July 15, including four domestic assaults, while Peavey Park has had two serious assaults in the same time period.

Ohotto said Elliot Park also has seen an uptick in criminal incidents, including an aggravated robbery and an assault with a dangerous weapon.