Preparing for Presidential Campaigns and Protests on Campus

The U.S. presidential campaign is heating up, and some events have turned violent. These 13 tips will help you address the security challenges associated with planned political actions.

Editor’s Note: This article, which originally ran in the January/February 2015 issue of Campus Safety magazine, provides tips on how colleges can prepare for planned political actions and demonstrations. Although these best practices also apply to presidential campaigns, campuses hosting candidates will need to work with the Secret Service and adopt additional measures that are outlined here and here

1. Be familiar with state and college freedom of speech policies and procedures. In Virginia, unless a protester is impeding college operations, the right to free speech must be protected.  Review your state’s and college’s freedom of speech policies. You may find your institution doesn’t have an explicit policy. Many Virginia schools are only now putting specific policies into place as a result of a successful lawsuit brought against the Commonwealth. Whether you have a policy or not, it would be wise to explore various “what-if” scenarios with your institution’s legal department.

RELATED: Is a Candidate Coming to Your Campus? Get Advice from Other Protection Pros Who’ve Been There

2. Request intelligence from your state fusion center. State fusion centers are valuable sources of intelligence. If you ask for intelligence a few weeks before the event, they can help your planning by telling you what to expect.

3. Have your department trained on how to properly respond to civil disturbances. Most college police departments do not have civil disturbance training; a protest, even with only passive resistance, will overwhelm normal response capabilities. If a protest becomes large and unruly, you will wish your department had civil disturbance training and equipment. If you lack this important capability, you are likely to find you lack adequate numbers of officers to cover the event without spiking overtime costs and reducing coverage at other locations. Even if you mobilize all your officers, you may not have enough manpower to cover a large protest, let alone the rest of your campus. Without civil disturbance training, you may need to rely on neighboring jurisdictions.

4. Review mutual aid agreements with local jurisdictions. Plan with local agencies for the support you may need, whether it is civil disturbance personnel, transport of arrestees, traffic control, etc.

5. Review your agency’s use of force policies and procedures. Events and contingencies on the street are never as clear cut as they seem in your General Orders, especially for officers who do not work such events on a regular basis. Discussions in roll call about the minimum threshold for using force, the escalation ladder, etc. will give officers confidence they are prepared and hopefully avoid litigation. Also, leaders need to consider how much force will trigger a use-of-force report and whether the plethora of reports will overwhelm your report adjudication process.

RELATED: What to Expect When Presidential Candidates Come to Campus

6. Remind officers they can be recorded. Despite Supreme Court rulings allowing officers to be recorded and photographed during the normal course of their operations (as long as officer safety, crime scene integrity and several other limited exceptions are not jeopardized), it is surprising how many officers react badly, even illegally, when confronted by someone who wants to record them. Review the law with your officers to minimize embarrassment and the threat of litigation. Also, remember, officers may photograph protestors on campus, who have no expectation of privacy. You never know who you will capture on film. If arrests are made, photos will help you identify suspects and support your case against them.

7. Review disorderly conduct and related codes. Make sure your officers review all laws, college policies, and municipal ordinances pertaining to disorderly conduct, illegal assembly, etc. 

About the Author

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Lt. John Weinstein is the commander of Northern Virginia Community College Public Safety District 3.

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