Following up on an earlier Daily Critical Issues Report about the upcoming election, PERF spoke with police executives from four cities in states where election results are expected to be close: Las Vegas, Miami, Saint Paul, and Philadelphia. Those police leaders’ comments are transcribed below.

In a related development, Christine Cole, who is Executive Director of the Crime and Justice Institute and who contributed to PERF’s earlier Daily Report, shared “Preparing for the 2020 Election,” a set of recommendations published by that organization last week. The recommendations cover pre-election, Election Day, and post-election activities in four areas – “norming”; community outreach; safety; and communications.

Click here to view that 11-page document.  

 

Key Takeaways:

Police in some cities respond to calls for assistance from election judges, but do not maintain a presence at polling locations:  Some state laws bar police from maintaining a presence at voting sites, in order to prevent any suggestion of voter suppression or intimidation. But police may respond to requests for assistance from election judges to handle disturbances or other incidents. Some police agencies direct officers to periodically drive by voting sites at a distance.

In Philadelphia, if police are called to a polling place, they are planning to send a supervisor as well as an officer, and both will use body-worn cameras to record the entire response.

Police are preparing:  While police are not planning to maintain a presence at voting sites, they are making preparations for contingencies – for example, by making sure that officers are aware of the locations of all polling sites, and that officers understand the types of situations in which police would be allowed to respond. Police agencies are aware that the 2020 election could be contentious, and that in an age of social media, a disturbance in one city can trigger disturbances in other cities. Many cities have been experiencing demonstrations for months, and expect that to continue and intensify during the election.

Staffing:  Police agencies are adjusting shifts and making other arrangements to ensure that adequate staffing will be available on Election Day, and on the days leading up to and following Election Day.

 

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Deputy Chief Andrew Walsh

Our city is divided into 10 area commands. We’re making sure that all the area commands are aware of where the city’s 31 permanent early voting locations and 17 satellite locations are. We have to make sure that those working patrol, who will be the initial first responders, know where the locations are. That’s the cornerstone of our approach to the pre-election period.

We also have daily calls with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, which will continue until after the election. They work with their folks who will be at the polling locations, so that they know what to look for and what the triggers would be to call us for a response.

We’re not going to have folks staffing these locations in a very visible way. We’ll have officers do random visits, driving through the parking lots at the locations, to make sure that all the rules are being followed and that everyone is educated on the role of police during elections in our state.

It will be important for us to look at world events and what is occurring in other cities. We need awareness, because if something occurs in one city, there’s the potential for it to happen here.

The day of the election and afterwards, we’re developing plans to make sure our staffing is where it needs to be in case we have protests or anything else that may occur.

We’ve been asked to provide security at some of the locations where votes will be counted. We have responsibility for all the unincorporated areas of Clark County, so all the ballots from the outlying areas have to be physically moved to the central count location. We provide transportation and security for that. But we are not at the physical location where a citizen would go to vote.

Part of our messaging will be to make sure people understand that if they do see a police officer in these locations, it could just be a random drive-through of the parking lots. A lot of the temporary locations will be in the parking lots of supermarkets, gyms, or other locations where we would typically be seen anyway. We don’t want people to feel intimidated or think that we’re there to see who is voting. That is a concern that we’ve heard from our community.

 

Philadelphia First Deputy Commissioner Melvin Singleton

We’re planning for two situations here: possible disturbances around the polling places and protests. In Philadelphia, our regulations state that no police officer in uniform or civilian attire will be within 100 feet of a polling place unless they are exercising the right to vote, serving warrants, or are called upon to preserve the peace. For that reason, we established two-person roving response teams around polling places in each of our 21 districts, as well as emergency response teams in each division, which includes four districts.

In Philadelphia the judge of elections has responsibility for maintaining the peace, and their election officers would call the police to the polling places if need be.

We know we’ll be on 12-hour shifts the day of the election to make sure we have enough manpower to handle anything that may arise.

If officers respond to a polling place, we’re also sending a supervisor and making sure each officer and supervisor has a body-worn camera. We know that there have been accusations in the past of officers being used to intimidate voters. We want to make sure we’re clear that we will never do anything other than be present to enforce fairness on all sides and make sure everyone’s rights are protected. In case we see any accusations, we’re going to have our body-worn cameras on and running during every encounter.

Our district attorney’s office has an election task force. If there’s any claim about election issues, they respond to polling places and provide legal help.

We train officers on our directives concerning primary, general, and special elections.

We believe we’ll see protests. Right now we’re planning for two days in advance of the election and straight through election day. If intelligence provides us information that we need to plan for four or five days in advance, we’ll make that adjustment. We’re looking to be in a 12-hour shift configuration, with the possibility of canceling days off. We’ll be driven by intelligence, including what we see on social media and what we’re given by our intelligence center.

It’s my understanding that we may not know the results of the election for days. We’ll be driven by intelligence regarding what we may need to do in case of protests afterwards. We expect to see protests when the results come out.

 

Saint Paul Deputy Chief Stacy Murphy

Here in Minnesota we have a state statute that does not allow law enforcement to be within 50 feet of the entrance to a polling place unless specifically summoned by the election judge at that location. So we will not have anyone stationed at any of the polling sites.

We have had additional staffing ever since the death of George Floyd. Obviously, there was a great deal of civil unrest here in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area, so we have had additional staffing on patrol since that time. That will still be in place around the election. But we don’t have an additional staffing model that we’ll be putting in place specifically for the election.

We have staffing models in place that would allow us to recall staff at a pretty rapid pace, should we need to in the event of some type of large-scale civil unrest. But we’re not anticipating anything like that specifically around the election.

All our patrol folks know where our polling locations are. They are also aware of the three drop-off locations for ballots within the city. We make sure our districts know who the election judges are at polling locations within each district.

If we were to be called to a polling site by the election judge or someone on site, we would meet with the election judge outside the facility, then be escorted in by them to make sure we are in compliance with the law.  

 

Miami Deputy Chief Ron Papier

Miami has been the site of small but ongoing protests for the last several months, so obviously it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll have some level of demonstration activity during and immediately following the election, regardless of who wins.

Our preparations primarily involve ensuring that we have sufficient resources to dynamically address any emergencies or disturbances that may occur at the polling sites or demonstrations elsewhere.

We’re very cautious about deploying uniformed voting personnel directly to a voting location because that can create the impression of voter intimidation. However, we will have additional staffing available to rapidly deploy in the event of a disturbance. We will not have any uniformed officers at the polling sites. We will have unmarked vehicles drive by to gauge crowd size or any unruliness that may occur.

The polling places are in charge of the actual security for issues like enforcing how many feet people must be from a site, so we defer to them on those issues. Obviously if they’re having a hard time or someone gets out of control, we’ll go and support them. If there is a law enforcement action that needs to be taken, we will take it. But we typically stay out of the enforcement of distance or issues like that.

We’re going to modify employee schedules for increased staffing, especially on election night and the days following. The COVID pandemic has caused a financial strain, so overtime is an issue. We’ll be adjusting days off and duty hours around November 3-5, trying to bring in as much staffing as possible without incurring much overtime. That will include putting officers from criminal investigations, training, and other units out on the street. We don’t want to take away from our regular patrol services, so we’ll be using other elements of the department to handle any demonstrations

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The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.

 

PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.