October 14, 2020 | View as webpage

Over the next three weeks, as the country counts down to Election Day, community tensions will undoubtedly rise. While some state laws bar police from maintaining a presence at voting sites, agencies are preparing for contingencies such as making sure officers understand the types of situations in which police would be allowed to respond at polling sites. Boston PD announced time off is called off to provide sufficient public safety for the week around the election and the NYPD has told members to prepare for protests before and after November 3.

In today’s Leadership Briefing police executives from three cities in states where election results are expected to be close discuss their preparations for Election Day. "We’re going to modify employee schedules for increased staffing, especially on election night and the days following," says Miami Police Deputy Chief Ron Papier.

One hot topic on the ballot in 2020 is marijuana, with initiatives in Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana seeking to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Politico reports that 1 in 3 Americans could have access to legal recreational pot depending on the results.

As the number of states with some form of legal weed increases, the potential impact on law enforcement issues ranging from drug-impaired driving to officer hiring and recruitment is immense. Today’s newsletter features an overview of research findings that compare student and police chief executive views on drug use disqualifiers – including “hard” drugs, marijuana and prescription drugs – for hiring. Police1 recently published the results of a survey of 3,615 sworn LEOs that captured law enforcement attitudes toward marijuana use and enforcement. Click here to access our special report featuring expert analysis of the survey findings.

P.S. Continue the communication by forwarding this newsletter to your professional contacts to ensure they stay informed and encourage them to sign up here.

Stay safe,

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, Police1

How law enforcement agencies are preparing for the election

By Police Executive Research Forum

As police executives plan for Election Day and the weeks surrounding it, PERF spoke with police executives from three cities in states where election results are expected to be close: Las Vegas, Miami and Philadelphia about steps their agencies are taking to prepare for November 3.

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 the voting sites at a distance.

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 November 3.

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.

On the day of the election and afterward, 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 message 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 have 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.

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.

Miami police Deputy Chief Ron Papier

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.

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.

NEXT: 'The pendulum goes back and forth': Chiefs address resignations and retirements

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Comparing student and police chief executive views on drug use disqualifiers for hiring

By A Johannes Bottema & Cody Telep

Nationally, law enforcement agencies in the US are facing significant challenges in hiring officers. Recently, researchers worked with the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZPOST) to survey police chief executives and college students taking criminology classes to learn about their perspectives on police hiring.

One key area of interest was views on hiring disqualifiers, with particular attention on how different types of pre-employment drug use by applicants should be treated. The purpose of this was to determine any overlap in views and potential for policy changes that may help address issues with current hiring challenges. This article provides an overview of the research findings, which were published in the Journal of Drug Issues.

Study methodology

Researchers conducted surveys of over 1,100 undergraduate students attending criminology classes at Arizona State University. These were conducted both in-person and online and covered a broad and diverse cross-section of students. Just over 80% of the students surveyed expressed an interest in a law enforcement career at the federal, state, or local level. Due to this, student views can be viewed as those of potential applicants.

With assistance from the AZPOST, the researchers also sent out surveys to the chief executives of all 159 law enforcement agencies in Arizona. Responses were received from 98 agencies of varying sizes from across the state.

Opinions on different drugs examined

For the study, three key types of drug use were examined in regard to pre-employment drug use as a hiring disqualifier:

“Hard” drug use

“Hard” drug use refers to pre-employment drug use for drugs other than marijuana. This was an area in which chiefs and students were largely in agreement. The majority of both of these groups believed that the current standards for drug use were about right. There was, however, a sizable minority of chiefs (almost a third) who believed general drug standards were too harsh.


Marijuana usage is treated differently in terms of hiring disqualifiers. [2] It is treated more leniently, with more uses allowed before resulting in disqualification. When surveyed, the majority of both groups supported the idea that marijuana should be treated more leniently than other drugs.

In terms of the existing marijuana disqualification standards, the majority of chiefs believed that marijuana experimentation laws were too harsh while a slight majority of students thought these were about right. However, there was still a sizable group of students who thought current marijuana disqualifiers were too harsh. Few respondents in both groups thought current marijuana standards were too lenient.

Further, students were supportive of exceptions for marijuana use, such as the use of marijuana in a state in which it is legal or the use of medical marijuana. Chiefs, on the other hand, believed that all marijuana use should be treated consistently under one more lenient marijuana experimentation standard.

Prescription drugs

Prescription drug use as a hiring disqualifier is another area of interest. Such use is currently typically treated the same as drugs other than marijuana. Over three-quarters of surveyed chief executives believed that pre-employment prescription drug use should be handled as a separate category. The study asked both groups about specific prescription drugs such as pain killers, stimulants, steroids and cold/flu medicine.

The majority of chiefs believed that every prescription drug type, except steroids, should be treated more leniently than other drugs. Interestingly, student views reflected less tolerance than the chiefs. For every prescription drug type, except cold/flu medicine, the majority of students believed prescription drugs should be treated the same as other drugs, if not even harsher and resulting in disqualification. This even included stimulants such as Adderall, which are known to be used by some on college campuses for studying and athletics.


Overall, police chief executives and students have different views about how drugs should be treated for hiring officers.

Typically, students tend to believe that pre-employment drug use should be treated more harshly than chiefs do. That being said, students were also more interested in exceptions for marijuana use under specific circumstances. Given these differences, policy implications from these findings are not clear cut, though there is evidence that both groups would be open to changes to current pre-employment drug disqualifiers.

Informed by the survey results and numerous meetings conducted with various law enforcement stakeholders and hiring personnel, AZPOST personnel proposed a variety of changes to the current drug standards. A number of these have been approved by the AZPOST board but are still awaiting final state approval. These changes were made to increase the applicant pool for sworn positions in Arizona while also maintaining the high standards required for such positions. Once these changes are active, more research will be needed to ensure this mission is being accomplished.

NEXT: 3,615 officers weigh in on the impact of marijuana legalization on policing

About the authors

A Johannes Bottema is a Ph.D. Candidate in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. His research focuses on collaborating with law enforcement at various levels to explore what is effective in policing and how this may benefit police agencies and the communities that they serve. His key focus is on evaluating evidence-based policing and particularly intelligence-led policing.

Cody Telep is an Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Programs in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. His Ph.D. is in Criminology, Law, and Society from George Mason University, where he worked in the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy. His research interests include the impact of police practices on crime and disorder, assessing the relationship between police activities and perceptions of legitimacy, understanding how to advance the use of evidence-based policies and practices in policing and criminal justice, and using experimental methodologies in evaluation research.

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3. What do cops think about policing in an era of legal marijuana? Police1, in conjunction with LSU, recently surveyed 3,615 sworn LEOs on a range of topics, from the use of medicinal marijuana off duty to decriminalization.
2. Driving while stoned: Researchers are analyzing what happens to people when they smoke marijuana and drive in order to develop a reliable roadside test police can use to determine if someone is driving while under the influence of marijuana.
1. Should police departments relax pre-employment marijuana use restrictions? Click here to answer our poll.
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