GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For more than a month, Grand Rapids’ police department, clerk’s office and the legal department have been thoroughly planning for Election Day.
The goal is to make sure everyone can cast their ballot safely. GRPD says this is the first time they can recall needing an extensive plan for an election.
“In my 24 years here at the Grand Rapids Police Department, we have not (planned) to this extent,” said Sgt. John Wittkowski. “This year is a little bit different. The level of animosity, the political ranker, the polarization has created a different atmosphere.”
Tensions are high in the midst of a recession, a pandemic and as the city still recovers from a riot in the heart of downtown.
“We learned our lesson. We learned a lot from May 30. We are much, much better prepared. Our officers are much better prepared,” Wittkowski said.
The hours of unexpected unrest in May taught GRPD to prepare for the worst and focus on de-escalation, which is why you won’t see officers at polling locations on Election Day.
“Officers being there can be intimidating and if we are talking about impartiality, we need to recognize that as well,” Wittkowski said. “If you are an individual who is not necessarily pro-police, well that’s beside the point and we want people to vote. That’s the whole idea here is to encourage people to vote to get them out to the polling stations and not feel like they are going to be intimidated by anyone.”
Instead, officers will be on standby. Wittkowski says one group of officers will wait on the north side of town while another waits on the south side. Those officers will be dedicated to calls for problems at polling places. However, they will be used as a last resort.
The hope is that most issues can be solved by the staff at the polls.
“We just want to ensure that everybody has a positive experience, that everybody gets to vote and we’re here merely to assist,” Wittkowski said. The plan for the days following the election is still evolving. GRPD says officers will be ready along with backup.