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Law enforcement preps for potential election-related unrest

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Officials say they’re not responding to any specific threats but are preparing for a host of different scenarios

October 09, 2020 –CREDIT: Michael Balsamo, Michael Kunzelman and Colleen Long – Associated Press.

WASHINGTON — Federal and state law enforcement officials have begun expanded preparations for the possibility of widespread unrest at the polls on Election Day, a response to extraordinarily high tensions among voters and anxieties about safety stoked in part by President Donald Trump.

FBI and local officials in several states have been conducting drills, running through worse-case scenarios, setting up command centers to improve coordination on reports of violence and voter intimidation, and issuing public warnings that any crime that threatens the sanctity of a Nov. 3 vote will not be tolerated.

The efforts are broader and more public-facing than in past years as fears grow over the potential for violent clashes in cities across the United States. Law enforcement officials say they are not responding to any specific threats or information but are preparing for a host of different scenarios that could play out.

[PODCAST: The hazards of policing in the political season]

Tensions are especially high given the increased political polarization and months of mass demonstrations against racial injustice that have seen violence by the left and right. Gun sales are way up. Six men were arrested after federal officials said they plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., at her vacation home. Experts are concerned that right-wing extremists will be emboldened by Trump’s recent refusal to clearly denounce the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist group, and instead tell them to “stand back and stand by.”

Trump has spent months suggesting without evidence that the election could be rigged. His call to supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” has election officials worried about that unofficial or self-appointed “monitors” could chaos and conflict at voting places.

An FBI official said the agency was considering the current climate of the country in its preparations to ensure safety at the polls, as well as working with other agencies to protect the voting system. The official would not discuss the plans publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Adding to the alarm is the fact this election will be the first in nearly 40 years in which the Republican National Committee isn’t barred from coordinated poll-monitoring activities. Democrats fear that could open the door to voter intimidation, the reason the courts have largely prohibited Republicans from poll monitoring since the early 1980s.

So far, experts who study extremism say they haven’t seen any open discussion online of plans to instigate violence or interfere with voting.

Elon University professor Megan Squire, a computer scientist who studies online extremism, said the far-right extremists she tracks on social media appear to be preparing for trouble — a “prepper mindset” — without citing specifics.

“They’re waiting for something to pop off,” she said. “It’s like a simmering kind of feeling.”

She said the mindset is particularly keen among boogaloo supporters, a loose, anti-government, pro-gun extremist online network. Boogaloo adherents have shown up at protests against COVID-19 lockdown orders and protests over racial injustice, carrying rifles and wearing tactical gear.

In one of the internet forums Squire follows, a boogaloo supporter recently discussed plans to stock up on water, food, gasoline and generators in case “infrastructure goes down and supply lines are cut off.”

Squire also said the Proud Boys, a group known for inciting street violence at rallies in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere, appear to be emboldened by Trump’s comments, as do less organized and strident figures posting on Facebook.

The deadly shooting by a heavily armed teenager during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August has fueled “pro-vigilantism” attitudes among more mainstream conservatives, Squire said.

And halfway through 2020, just over 19 million FBI background checks have been done, more than all of 2012 and each of the years before that. July hit an all-time high. Background checks are the key barometer of gun sales, but the FBI’s monthly figures also incorporate checks for permits that some states require to carry a firearm. Each background check also could be for the sale of more than one gun.

The Justice Department’s civil rights division is responsible for enforcing federal voting rights laws and tasks U.S. attorney’s offices with appointing special election coordinators to handle voting rights cases. The federal government has for decades sent prosecutors and federal observers to polling places to ensure compliance with federal law.

Local offices from New Mexico to Florida have been prepping, holding tabletop exercises and pouring over potential security threats.

But their jobs are especially fraught this year in part over concerns of politicization. Attorney General William Barr has repeatedly suggested without evidence that could be widespread mail-in voter fraud, though there is little to back that up.

This year, officials from a number of federal law enforcement agencies will be coordinating on Election Day at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center, a global command center at FBI headquarters, people familiar with the matter said.

Justice Department prosecutors from different parts of the agency, including the civil rights and national security divisions, will be on hand to monitor incidents and help coordinate a federal response in the event of violence and threats to election infrastructure or cyberattacks, as well as high-profile incidents at polling places, said the people, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Justice Department and Homeland Security Department have sent additional personnel to cities where violence has cropped up during protests. The National Guard has designated military police units in Arizona and Alabama to serve as rapid reaction forces so they can respond quickly to any potential unrest.

But the first line of response on Election Day will be local law enforcement.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has launched a hotline that rings directly to assistant district attorneys, who will send detectives to investigate reports of voter suppression or intimidation. He said this week his office will not allow armed groups at the city’s polling places amid growing concerns about voter intimidation by vigilante groups aiming to “protect the election.” Such groups have caused violence at demonstrations.

But Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said he has not seen any specific campaigns for groups intending to target polling stations.

“A lot of the chatter that you see is going to be hyperbole, and one of the things we don’t want to do is amplify hyperbole,” he said.

Segal said white supremacists often turn to violence “when they feel like their culture is being taken away,” while militias “tend to get more antsy when they think their guns are being taken away.” Now he sees a possible threat from a loose coalition of vigilantes and other armed extremists who “think that their election is going to be taken away.”

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NJ cops won’t face penalty for making too few arrests under new bill

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Under the proposal, agencies would be barred from using the number of arrests made or citations issued to evaluate an officer’s overall performance

Credit By Blake Nelson for – nj.com December 14, 2020

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey lawmakers advanced a bill Friday to prevent cops from facing demotion, discipline or pay cuts just because they didn’t arrest more people.

A department would be barred from considering the number of arrests made or citations issued when evaluating an officer’s overall performance, under a proposal (S1322) approved 6-0 by the state Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

Current law allows those statistics to be one of the factors considered when officials weigh promotions, demotions, dismissals, discipline and salaries.

Police “are all too often pressured to write more tickets to increase revenue and help municipalities balance their budgets,” state Sen. Shirley Turner, D- Mercer and one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. Other departments have been accused of having secret arrest “quotas,” she said.

“These policies, whether written or unwritten, have fallen hardest upon low-income individuals and people of color,” Turner added.

The bill would still allow arrest and citation statistics to be tracked. The proposal must pass the full Senate and Assembly before it can head to the governor’s desk.

Several policing reforms have advanced since George Floyd protests swept the state. The governor recently signed a bill into law largely requiring departments to use body cameras, but other reforms have stalled.

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Police prepare for protests after officer-involved shooting in Philadelphia leaves criminal dead

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November 13, 2020 – Credit Law Enforcement Today

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Police in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania got into a vehicle pursuit with a man who was armed with a gun.

When the subject crashed his car during the pursuit, he began to fire on the officers, prompting them to return fire, striking and killing the man.

The incident occurred on November 12th when officers in an unmarked police vehicle noted a red Ford Mustang that was stopped in an intersection near B and Stella Streets.

The officers honked their horn, apparently hoping the driver would move out of the intersection and allow them to pass, but the car did not move.

Officers exited their vehicle and approached the man, who was holding a gun in his hand. When they got the man’s attention, he seemed startled and fled. 

The vehicle pursuit continued until the car crashed near Jasper Street and Hart Lane. The driver, who has not been identified at this time, took off in an attempt to get away from the officers. 

Fearing for their lives, the officers returned fire, striking the man. Officers rushed into render aid to the man, and called for medics to respond to the scene. Once they arrived, they transported the suspect to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Thankfully, the police were not injured during the incident. The officers involved will be placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, which is normal procedure for these cases. 

Philadelphia Police Sergeant Eric Gripp said:

“When the officers in their unmarked vehicle came upon that crash, one of the officers exited the vehicle and stayed with the crashed vehicle to preserve that scene. While the other officer stayed inside of their unmarked car to try to ascertain the location of the driver.

“Shortly thereafter, he came upon this male…at which point the officer exited his vehicle [and] attempted to stop the male. From what we have through surveillance footage and body cam footage…it appears that the offender fired at least two shots at our police officer. 

“Our police officer fired at least two shots in return, striking the male…that male was transported by police to Einstein Hospital and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter…

This is a very fluid situation…while this investigation is taking place, it will be handled by our Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit along with Internal Affairs who will provide the results of their concurrent investigations to the District Attorney’s Office.”

“New dash cam video shows the 39 year old suspect in the red mustang fleeing from police, driving the wrong way and almost hitting Avi D, in his car. The suspect eventually crashed, and fled on foot before exchanging shots with @PhillyPolice.”

At this point, police stated that they have identified the male as a 39-year-old Hispanic, but they are not releasing his name. This is most likely because they have not made contact with the man’s next of kin.

The City of Philadelphia is just getting over the mass riots, protests, and looting that occurred after police shot and killed Walter Wallace, Jr. In that incident, police were called because Wallace was threatening family members with a knife.

When police arrived on the scene, they made contact with Wallace who was still armed with the knife. Officers backed up, almost to the point of running away from Wallace, while shouting orders for the man to drop the knife, which he ignored.

After several orders were ignored and Wallace appeared to pick up his pace towards officers, they opened fire, striking and killing him at the scene.

Despite the video evidence which proves officers account of the situation, the city still became a center of unrest because Wallace allegedly suffered from mental illness which is believed by the family to have caused the incident.

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2 officers ambushed in New Orleans, one shot in face by man in pedicab

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The officers were in an SUV when the pedicab approached

Credit: The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — A pedicab passenger inexplicably shot a New Orleans police officer in the face in the French Quarter on Friday afternoon, just as revelers began arriving to celebrate Halloween weekend.

The officer was wounded at about 4:25 p.m. while in his patrol vehicle near St. Philip and Royal streets. Other officers took him to a hospital rather than wait for paramedics, and police arrested the alleged gunman within minutes, Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the officer was in serious but stable condition after being shot under his left eye. The bullet was lodged in the officer’s skull, but the four-year veteran, whose name was not immediately released, was responsive as he walked into the hospital holding his cheek, Ferguson said.

A second officer, a 16-year veteran, was wounded by glass shards in the shooting, from a shattered window on the cruiser.

“Two of our officers were ambushed,” said Ferguson, who said officers confiscated a gun that they think was used in the shooting. “This is a dark day.”

Ferguson said the suspect, who had a gun holster on him, appeared to be experiencing some type of medical episode when he was captured. He said the man was taken to a hospital for evaluation, and he made clear that the arresting officers did not use any physical force on the suspect.

“I want to commend those officers for maintaining professionalism,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson did not identify the suspect or specify what charges he would face.

Friday night, a law enforcement source identified the suspect as Donnell Linwood Hansel, 45. 

Several eyewitnesses said two officers were in an SUV on Royal Street crossing St. Philip when a pedicab riverbound on St. Philip approached. A man in the back of the pedicab stood up and fired at least five shots into the driver’s side door of the police vehicle, they said. The shooter ran off as the pedicab crashed.

Gabriel Shaffer, an artist who owns a gallery on that block of Royal, said he heard the wounded officer get out of the vehicle while moaning and exclaiming in pain.

“I could clearly hear him say, ‘Oh, my God, somebody just took my life!'” Shaffer said. “It was pretty awful.”

Tour guides Angie Still and Karen Fernandez said they were just a few yards away when the shooting erupted. They saw an officer on the passenger side of the targeted police vehicle jump out and scream, “Officer down!” Neither officer from the vehicle appeared to have time to return fire.

“We were just sitting there in shock,” Still said.

Douglas Mackar, who was in a building overlooking the scene of the shooting, said he heard the gunshots and ran to the window. He said he saw the driver of the pedicab crash into the sidewalk and run for cover.

Mackar said he ran from the window to check on his girlfriend, and by the time he returned, the wounded officer had already been whisked away to the hospital. “Whoever was first on the scene got him loaded up and out of here within seconds,” Mackar said.

A woman who asked that her name not be published said she saw the suspected shooter flailing, screaming and trying to bite first responders who were loading him into an ambulance after his arrest.

At the wig shop Fifi Mahoney’s, employees grabbed a few passerby from the street and locked them inside along with six customers. One customer, a doctor, left and dashed to the shooting scene to help, returning later with bloodied hands to take his wife home, an employee said.

Ferguson said passersby helped officers find the gunman by pointing him out as he ran to the intersection of St. Peter and Decatur streets. A retired Army veteran performed first aid on the officer’s face wound before he was taken to the hospital, Ferguson said.

The police chief thanked those members of the public for each of those actions, which came amid a party atmosphere that is typical in the French Quarter on a Friday evening.

Donovan Livaccari of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge called the shooting was a sobering reminder of the dangers inherent to professional law enforcement.

“Merely driving down the street … can lead to gunfire,” he said. “These two officers were not responding to a call for service. They were not looking for an armed subject on a pedicab. They were driving around in the French Quarter on routine patrol.”

“If the city can’t even keep the police safe, how can we feel safe?” wondered a worried Kim Planche Hunter, who has lived in the French Quarter resident for 70 years.

Ferguson said the attack marked a particularly grueling hour in what has been a difficult year for both his agency and the city. Not only has New Orleans been gripped by the deadly coronavirus pandemic since March, it also took a direct hit two days earlier from Hurricane Zeta, a strong Category 2 storm that caused widespread damage and left tens of thousands without electricity even two days later.

“We’ll get through this together,” Ferguson said.

Katelyn Umholtz contributed to this report.

(c)2020 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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