SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — With the most divisive national election in generations just days away, San Diego-area law enforcement officials expressed confidence this week that they are prepared should the long-simmering divisions boil over into clashes on the streets as ballots are cast and counted.
"We are in constant communication with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners and, as of now, we are not aware of any anticipated problems on Election Day and the days thereafter," said Lt. Shawn Takeuchi, head of public affairs for the San Diego Police Department. "However, we also recognize that this year is very unprecedented given the pandemic, social justice movement and emotion-filled politics. If unrest occurs, we will be prepared to facilitate peaceful protests while addressing violent actions."
Despite the unique concerns surrounding the powder keg that is the 2020 presidential election, the SDPD has no immediate plans for additional patrols or pre-emptive activation of any special crowd control personnel in the upcoming days, the lieutenant said.
Takeuchi noted that a state statute intended to prevent voter intimidation, California Elections Code 18544, prohibits peace officers, security guards or anyone else in possession of a gun to be "stationed in the immediate vicinity" of a polling place without written authorization of "the appropriate city or county elections official."
Even if significant election-enforcement challenges arise, the SDPD "is prepared to provide uninterrupted emergency and non-emergency police service to all of the communities we serve," the spokesman said.
A representative of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department likewise asserted that his agency has been preparing for the election by working "closely with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners," including the San Diego Law Enforcement Coordination Center, "to investigate any threats to public safety."
"While we can't discuss tactics, every threat received by the Sheriff's Department is taken seriously and evaluated to determine (its) validity," said Lt. Ricardo Lopez, media relations director for the regional agency. "Cases determined to be valid are investigated and acted upon accordingly."
Lopez noted that the sworn personnel of the department -- which provides law enforcement services for all local unincorporated communities along with the contract cities of Del Mar, Encinitas, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, Poway, San Marcos, Santee, Solana Beach and Vista -- "routinely train to prepare to respond to crowd-management events."
"Our goal is to protect the public's right to free speech," he said. "We encourage the peaceful gathering of people."
By policy, the El Cajon Police Department also would not disclose "any particular plans or tactics related to the election," said Lt. Randy Soulard, public information officer for the East County agency.
"I can say that we are leveraging our resources and staffing to be prepared to respond to any activity that jeopardizes the safety of our community, as well as (to) provide safety for the peaceful demonstrations that may or may not result from the elections," Soulard said.
To the north, the leadership of the Escondido Police Department plans to "maintain our normal posture, with a few added units on Election Day available if any extra needs pop up," EPD public affairs Lt. Kevin Toth said, adding that "all agencies in the county have contingency plans in place if the need arises to augment staffing levels."
"Fingers crossed we have a peaceful week, but we are prepared to deploy extra officers if that is not the case," Toth said.
Tom Bussey, spokesman for the Oceanside Police Department, said the coastal law enforcement agency was taking a similar approach to that of its Escondido counterpart by making sure its officers are prepared to respond promptly to any disruptions at the city's polling places if election workers report any trouble.
"If something pops up, they'll let us know," Bussey said, adding that department officials had not gotten wind of any planned demonstrations, possible voter intimidation or any other potential disruptions.
Just to the south, the Carlsbad Police Department has "created an operational plan to ensure safety for those who choose to visit a polling site," said Jodee Reyes, community-relations manager for the agency.
"If a community member sees a problem at a polling site, they are encouraged to give us a call," Reyes said. "As for the days leading up to election day, if a community member receives threats or intimidation intended to affect their vote, they (also) are encouraged to give us a call. Threats of this nature will investigated and be shared with the FBI, (which) has been working on such issues nationwide."
In the South County, the Chula Vista Police Department also has no immediate plans for increased staffing around Election Day, CVPD Capt. Eric Thunberg said.
The captain said his agency had found "no specific information that anyone's trying to prevent or obstruct" voting in the city and, like Takeuchi, pointed out that police are "supposed to be apolitical" and are precluded from having a sustained presence at the polls unless officially called in by elections officials.
"We respect the sanctity (of elections) and encourage people to vote," Thunberg said. We won't be (stationed) near the polls. ... We're hopeful for a peaceful and uneventful voting process."