Police departments are beefing up their ranks for Election Day, preparing for possible civil unrest and riots after the historic presidential contest, says The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C. Public safety officials said the election, which will end with either the nation's first black president or its first female vice president, demanded a stronger police presence. Some worry that if Barack Obama loses and there is suspicion of foul play in the election, violence could ensue in cities with large black populations. Others based the need for enhanced patrols on past riots in urban areas (after professional sports events) and also on Internet rumors.
Democratic strategists and advocates for black voters say they understand officers wanting to keep the peace, but caution that excessive police presence could intimidate voters. Obama has seen his lead over rival John McCain grow in public opinion surveys, prompting speculation that there could be a violent backlash if he loses unexpectedly. Cities that have suffered unrest before, such as Detroit, Chicago, Oakland and Philadelphia, will have extra police deployed. In Oakland, the police will deploy extra units trained in riot control, as well as extra traffic police, and even put SWAT teams on standby.
“Are we anticipating it will be a riot situation? No. But will we be prepared if it goes awry? Yes,” said Jeff Thomason, spokesman for the Oakland Police Department.