Little Rock Police Department's 12th Street substation

There are few more prominent barometers of the business climate’s relationship to the social climate than Walmart, so the retail giant’s announcement last Thursday that it would pull all gun and ammunition displays from its stores out of concern for Election Day-fueled volatility made serious waves. Walmart reversed that decision the next day, but by the time the week ended, concerns about civil unrest that have been simmering for months now reached a rolling boil. 

President Trump said he’d send his lawyers into swing states on Election Night to contest extensions for ballot tabulation, confirming a legal strategy his administration had begun building months before the election. His son lobbed a tweet at CNN’s Wolf Blitzer for posting a video of preemptively boarded-up buildings in Washington, D.C. Reports of “Trump train” caravans popped up across the U.S. over the weekend, surrounding a Biden campaign bus in Texas and generating violence around a Robert E. Lee monument in Virginia. And social media platforms did as they are wont to do: Provide a space where rumor and speculation can flourish. 

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So how is Central Arkansas positioned to grapple with potential civil unrest in the wake of the election? 

Lt. Casey Clark, a spokesman for the Little Rock Police Department, said the department has instituted “blackout” days this week, during which no officers are allowed to take vacation days or personal leave.

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“All officers, even our detectives, up and down the chain of command, will all report to work in uniforms. Specifically for Election Day, we’ve pulled an undisclosed number of officers from speciality units and other assignments, and they are going to be on periodic patrols.” Clark clarified that the specialty unit officers are internal to LRPD — property crimes detectives, community resource officers and others who don’t typically patrol the city.

“Basically, we’re trying to put a lot more marked cars and uniformed officers out around the polling sites,” he said, “to make sure everyone’s safe and make sure everything’s going well during Election Day.”

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As far as the rest of the week, he says, the department is “on standby, just in case there is the possibility of civil unrest. We’ve been making some contingency plans for the last couple months, so we know we’re going to have plenty of personnel. … We stand ready to do whatever we need to do. We don’t expect any trouble, and we haven’t received any information that would indicate that there’s going to be unrest here, or any type of voter suppression or anything like that.”

So far, he said, the department hasn’t received any calls to poll sites that required police assistance. “As of this point, we’ve had no credible — no threats at all, really. We’ve had some outreach from the community from basically the whole spectrum of the political landscape to make sure that we’re ready, and we are.” Other than some long lines, the first couple of days,” he said, “early voting seems to have gone off pretty well.” 

“Usually, things like this, large events like this, you usually get people reporting others on social media, but we’ve gotten nothing. I think that’s a good sign. People are anxious about the election, but I don’t think during the voting process that anything adverse is going to happen. We’ll have a big day, but hey, that’s what America’s all about — preserving everybody’s right to a free and fair election.”

Should voters witness any criminal activity near the polls or otherwise, Clark stressed, they should call 911. “If in doubt, if they see something, say something. Give us a call. That’s why we’re here.”

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Cpl. Patrick Langley at the Hot Springs Police Department had a similarly uneventful report from the Spa City, stating the following in an email:

In reference to the election on 11/03/20, we are staying diligent and keeping a close eye on our polling locations. At this time we have no information to suggest that any group or person(s) have intentions to threaten the election process or create civil unrest regarding the elections/polling locations in our area. If further information is obtained, we would of course, respond accordingly to ensure the safety of our citizens.

Last Thursday, Diana Long, director of River Market operations, distributed an email connecting downtown Little Rock business owners — including the Arkansas Times — with an invitation-only communication app called Playbook for Election Day, to be administered by the City of Little Rock’s Office of Emergency Management. The app, launched by a partnership of the City of Little Rock, Downtown Little Rock Partnership and the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, is intended to provide real-time updates on any civil disruptions in the area and, as the email states, “to help keep us all on the same page with activity in our areas in case there are protests or other disruptions.”

“Updates might include reminders about voting locations and hours, any planned or spontaneous protests, changes in traffic patterns in the area, or any other situational awareness information that might be of assistance,” Long’s email stated. Little Rock’s Office of Emergency Management did not respond to a Friday afternoon request for more information.

Arkansas State Police Public Information Officer Bill Sadler sent the following statement:

As a matter of operational protocol the Arkansas State Police does not discuss in a public forum its plans of how troopers might be deployed in advance of what you described as, “any potential for civil unrest” or any other incident that would compromise the safety of citizens and their property.

 

If such an incident were to occur, it would likely begin within the jurisdiction of a local law enforcement agency and as required by Arkansas law, the state police would offer its assistance to local authorities in the form of sufficient personnel and resources as necessary to quell any disturbance.

Conway Police Department Public Information Officer LaTresha Woodruff reported that there were no changes to regular department staffing this week, though Woodruff notes that “should something arise, we have more staff readily available.” Woodruff reported that as of the Monday afternoon before Election Day, Conway PD hadn’t responded to any calls from Conway polling stations during the early voting window, and that residents could contact the Conway PD at 501-450-6120 to report any problems at the polls that might call for police assistance.