‘Broken Arrow’: Cities and police ready for election violence
More than most law enforcement officials around the country, Anoka County, Minnesota, Sheriff James Stuart has been up close to the tensions gripping the country this year.
His territory touches Minneapolis, where violence followed the death of George Floyd in May while in the custody of the city police. His deputies are bracing for protests targeting a new pipeline project. And now, he has to get ready for the likelihood of Election Day violence.
“I think 2020 has really defined what law enforcement has to be prepared for and is willing to respond to. Although everybody is tired of the unrest, it’s the reality of this year,” he told Secrets.
“The tragic reality is that we are prepared for any type of unrest situation on a much greater scale in 2020 than we have been in the past. The sad thing is we have to be. The good news is that we are prepared,” said the sheriff, who is planning to increase surveillance of polling areas on Election Day.
Exactly 1,600 miles away, Tampa, Florida, Mayor Jane Castor agreed that 2020 has rewritten rules, including preparing for the election.
Also the city’s former police chief, she said that law enforcement is “preparing for the worst” and that she hopes that President Trump or Democrat Joe Biden win big, “a definitive win,” or else there is “the possibility of some type of violent reaction throughout the country.”
Still, the mayor isn’t expecting violence. She said that elections supervisors have worked out a strong Election Day plan, and the mayor has wooed poll volunteers to help the expected voter crunch, even including staff from the Tampa Bay Rays, the team representing the American League in the World Series.
Team President Brian Auld, in discussing plans to help in the election with Castor on Facebook, said, “Nothing’s more important, we put the Rays World Series right underneath the election coming up.”
Unlike ever before, cities big and small are being warned about the potential of protests and violence from both sides of the aisle.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has been urging members to prepare for a long period of protests if the election count takes extra days or weeks. “The 2020 election is shaping up to be like no other in our nation’s history. There is significant concern that we may see voter intimidation efforts and protests, some possibly violent, in the days leading up to November 3, on that day, and on the days following,” it said on a webpage dedicated to “election security and safety.”
The National Sheriffs’ Association, meanwhile, is encouraging Americans to accept the election outcome.
“There is no place for violence in our electoral process. And anyone encouraging violence because an/the election fails to meet their personal beliefs makes their action nothing more than mob rule or worse, terrorism. For 244 years, we accepted the will of the people, bending to violence or the threat is contrary to everything this nation was founded upon,” said Jonathan Thompson, NSA executive director and CEO.
Stuart said his office has a three-stage plan, depending on the violence. The most severe is called “’Broken Arrow’ … where everybody is paged out, we roll out all available equipment, [and] all days off are canceled.”
Stuart, who is on the executive board of the National Sheriffs’ Association, which is helping departments prepare for Election Day, added, “Across the nation, we’ve really been forced to re-look at how to prepare ourselves for what could be.”
It’s happening in small towns, too. Culpeper County, Virginia, Sheriff Scott Jenkins said the rural area’s officials have a plan to keep everybody safe.
Still, like his fellow sheriff in urban Minneapolis, Jenkins told us, “On election night, we will follow reporting and intelligence from many sources to prepare for what may come. But let me say this: We will deal swiftly and appropriately with unlawful activity from any individual or group, no matter where they place themselves on the political spectrum. No matter our disagreements, using violence to force another person to your own point of view is unacceptable.”
It’s a lot to ask of the police. “Everybody is just tired,” said Stuart, adding, “deputies and most of the public included.” But, he said, his team “will do what they’ve got to do.”
In Tampa, Castor is sticking with a glass-half-full approach to Election Day while readying for potential disaster. “I always try to find the silver lining in every situation, and with the division we’ve seen here and across our nation, I just hope it brings individuals out to the polls and that we see everyone exercising their right to vote,” she said.