Election Day is tomorrow, but there are concerns that this year's presidential election will be met with unrest.
The Las Vegas Metro Police Department says it is ready for whatever might happen on Tuesday or beyond. Deputy Chief Andrew Walsh told KNPR's State of Nevada that the department must balance safety and a person's right to vote.
"There is a tremendous balance between having an overt presence and making sure that people are physically safe to exercise their right to vote. What we really rely on is the Secretary of State’s office," he said, "They are the ones that are trained and hired and have the people who work at the voting locations. They are the first set of eyes and ears that, in addition to the public, can alert us to anything that is happening at a voting location that is disrupting people’s right to vote."
This year, Walsh said the department will have more officers and resources at the ready.
“We’re adjusting resources to have additional people working and in uniform," he said, "If we have the need for putting resources in a particular area, we have the ability to do that both during the day and at night. Obviously, the big concern across the country is how long it will take for a winner in the presidential election to be declared and then the potential for demonstrations and peaceful protests and civil unrest that could occur as a result of the presidential election.”
Walsh said this election year has a different feel from years past.
“The only thing that we can actually look back, at least at my time in dealing with elections, is 2000 when you had the state of Florida was up for grabs, I guess, and it took up to the middle of December for us, as a country, to get an answer on who won the state of Florida, consequentially who won the presidential election," he said, "It’s the only thing I can recall to where the unease that existed around the results of a presidential election existed. And now, we just seem to have two groups of folks that are so divided in their views of who they want to win the election. The idea of disruptions and unrest to occur.”
So far, Metro hasn't heard about any plans for mass protests and civil unrest. However, those who are unhappy with the results could mobilize quickly.
“When you have a peaceful protest and you have folks that have issues that they would like to take to the streets and make people aware of," he said, "Our first responsibility is to make sure their right to do that is protected and they’re allowed to do that in a manner that’s safe. So that they don’t have interference from groups or people that are in disagreement with their point of view or what it is they’re trying to push out for awareness for the rest of the community."
Walsh said there are protests and rallies in the community every day but they don't turn into something violent or out of control because the participants are peaceful and where and how the protests are held give them a chance to get their message out peacefully.
"The other side of that is when we deal with situations that quickly move from being peaceful protest and an attempt to get the message heard those become incidents of civil unrest and civil disobedience. Those create a concern for public safety. Those are the ones that we hope we don’t ever experience again but the reality of it is there are groups that will do the best they can to be disruptive," he said.
Walsh said the department is keeping an eye out for problems and will be flexible with resources in order to deal with anything that pops up.
Another concern for law enforcement is that someone might see the polling sites as an opportunity for violence. Walsh said it used to take individuals or groups months, even years, to come with a plan and be prepared to execute it.
"But if we’ve learned anything from events over the previous year or two, the time frame for things to be caught by family members or observed by people in the community and then alerting the police that window for intervention is getting smaller and smaller," he said, "We have we benefited in some way from not having large gatherings, certainly not economically, but there is a reason why we have not had one of these large scale incidents, we haven’t had large gatherings."
He noted that places that prohibit firearms outside of Election Day, like schools, also limit them on Election Day. Walsh is concerned that how polling sites operate could be them at risk for an attack.
"When you have hundreds of people waiting online to vote and sometimes those lines extend outside of buildings the threat that exists is even just from somebody with a firearm," he said, "The vehicle-born attacks that we’ve seen during some protests and we’ve seen vehicles used as weapons in other countries. The lack of sophistication is what is most alarming. It doesn’t take much. It just takes a car or it takes a truck.”
He said a mass casualty event is a nightmare for any community.
Andrew Walsh, Deputy Chief, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police
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