Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Election Day

I stopped by the WOW center this evening to vote in the local election. Early results should be available in less than two hours, thanks to modern technology.

I was a little surprised to see a police cruiser parked across the street from the entrance to the polls. I checked with some friends, and it sounds like there was a strong police presence at all of the polls all day long (which explains why, when I called in a noise complaint earlier in the day, I was informed that it would be a while before they could get around to dispatching anyone).

One person I spoke to said he felt very intimidated by the police presence, especially when the cruiser outside the WOW center followed his car home and then looped back around to return to the center. He was furious when he told me this story. In the interests of fairness, I tended to believe that it was an unfortunate coincidence but did a little research and learned that a strong police presence at the voting places can be a very bad idea.

Here's an excerpt from an ACLU of Virginia news release dated October 21, 2004:
Civil liberties group says many voters won’t show if police are present
The ACLU of Virginia today asked the Chesterfield County registrar to withdraw a plan to post armed, uniformed police officers at the County’s 62 polling places on Election Day. The ACLU says that the police presence--a reminder of when armed government officials were used to prevent minorities from voting--will intimidate many potential voters, causing them to avoid the polls.

An article on the website of the American University Radio by Jessica Forres dated November 5, 2008 had this to say on the topic:
A Latino advocacy group says some Hispanic voters in Virginia's Prince William County may have been intimidated by the heavy police presence at one polling site.

It seems like it's a very delicate balance. If police have received a credible threat that would place voters in danger when they vote, then of course there should be a strong presence. But if voters feel intimidated, then that's a problem that needs to be fixed.


Anonymous said...

I voted at the WOW center also, and was annoyed to see the police cruiser sitting across the street with lights flashing. This coupled with the poor parking situation around the center, makes this a poor choice for a poll location. I wouldn't be surprised if district 72-2 has an even lower turnout than usual.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm naive or less of a cynic, but could the police presence be attributed to trafffic control, due to the "poor parking situation"?

We have police cruisers with lights on, outside church on Sunday. Do you think someone is trying to intimidate worshippers?

There are polling laws that need to be enforced.I feel more intimidated by the throng of when I get out of my car. It's funny how they ignore me as I am exiting the polling place.

Anonymous said...

Why would someone be intimidated by the presence of police at the polling places? Is it perhaps because they have an outstanding warrant or are wanted for something? Maybe a chilld support issue or a failure to appear? Police were present at my polling place too and I wasn't intimidated by them. To try to make your point further and say they were "armed" is just ridiculous. Of course they were armed. Did you ever see a police officer that wasn't armed? It's about time to stop catering to the criminals among us and take care of the "normal" people out there. The ones that aren't on the run from law enforcement, creditors, ex spouses, state agencies, former landlords and the like.
I thought the comment about police being at churches on Sunday said it best - no one seems to be intimidated by that although perhaps there are some so-called houses of worship that would complain about that too.

Anonymous said...

I like cops. I was glad to see then at the polls, i figured i would not have to worry about any Acorn thugs, like the ones caught on tape in philadelphia a year ago.

Anonymous said...

While the idea of a strong police presence at the polls sounds kind of Orwellian, in a place like Waterbury, that hardly seems the case. Most cops you see at work sites or directing traffic look like they don't want to be bothered enforcing laws. With all due respect, they look like they just want to collect their OT and go home.

That being said, if I were a woman voting at the WOW center in the evening, I would be grateful to see a police presence.

Waterbury Girl said...

I’m always intrigued to see which blog posts garner the most responses. They’re coming in pretty fast for this one!

To clarify a few things:

I think that an individual's life experiences, as well as those of his or her family members, shapes their perceptions of police presence. I'm making a gross generalization here, but it seems like people from comfortable middle class backgrounds, especially if they are white, tend to see a police presence as innocuous, while minorities tend to feel threatened by the police presence. I think both views, even though conflicting, are valid.

Waterbury has some really fantastic police officers who genuinely care about the communities they serve and do what they can to help people. Unfortunately, Waterbury also has some police officers who abuse their power and take out their frustrations on citizens who deserve better. This is a problem that is not specific to just Waterbury—in NYC, there is even a hotline to call with complaints about being mistreated by the police.

Based on things I've heard in the past several months (starting when I was on the campaign trail), I think it’s fair to say that many members of Waterbury’s black and Hispanic communities believe that the Waterbury police engage in racial profiling and believe that they have, at one or more points in time, been targeted and harassed because they are black or Hispanic. Even if there is no truth to that belief, it is still a huge problem that the police should be aware of and should work on correcting. It’s not a healthy attitude for a community to have.

In response to Anonymous #3: there are many, many reasons why a “normal” person would feel intimidated by police standing guard at a polling location. Just ask anyone who has ever been arrested due to mistaken identity. The police have been known to arrest people for outstanding parking tickets; I don’t think of that as a criminal offense, but in at least one instance, it has resulted in an arrest and forced transportation to Bethany. Most significantly, as I stated above, there are many minorities in Waterbury who expect to be harassed by the police because that does happen, we hear about it in the national news all the time, and I think everyone has heard stories about police falsifying reports.

There were no police standing guard at the polls during the primary election, and I don’t remember police during the national election last year. Therefore, when I saw them at the polls yesterday, I immediately assumed that something unusual was going on. My background/life experiences have taught me to assume that police officers are there to help me, but I did wonder if there was a problem happening, and I did a quick visual sweep to make sure there was no violence in the proximity.

Also, to Anon #3, please note that the use of the word “armed” is not mine—that is a quote from a press release from Virginia.

Anonymous said...

There's a large parking lot a couple of houses down from the WOW building.

Anonymous said...

FYI: Police were first dispatched to polling places in 2005 on the basis of concerns over the sometimes explosive and violent behavior of one of the partisans.
It's kind of continued since then out of habit. This year, police were required to intervene two or three times on the basis of dust-ups between poll standers and/or candidates.
As for the concerns on racial profiling, you will find that in some quarters of your own district the residents want police to take an even MORE aggressive approach to people loitering, cruising or blasting stereos.


Waterbury Girl said...

Aaaah, Waterbury ~ where the police are stationed at the polls to keep the politicians from getting into fights!