Georgia requires police training on election intimidation and interference

Police training council is first in the nation to add one-hour election law mandate for new officers
Chris Harvey, deputy executive director for the Georgia Police Police Officer Training and Standards Council, said that without election training for law enforcement, “there’s almost no way that an officer would be aware of what their legal obligations are and what laws may be broken at a polling place.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Jason Allen)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Chris Harvey, deputy executive director for the Georgia Police Police Officer Training and Standards Council, said that without election training for law enforcement, “there’s almost no way that an officer would be aware of what their legal obligations are and what laws may be broken at a polling place.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Jason Allen)

Basic training for Georgia police will soon include a one-hour course on election laws, such as protections against voter intimidation, election interference and threats.

The Georgia Police Officer Training and Standards Council voted Tuesday to increase minimum training standards for new law enforcement officers, including topics such as election security, active shooter response, crisis intervention and extremist groups.

Georgia is the first state in the nation to mandate election training for police, said Chris Harvey, deputy executive director of the council.

“Without training, there’s almost no way that an officer would be aware of what their legal obligations are and what laws may be broken at a polling place,” Harvey said. “There are a number of laws that are designed to protect election officials and the public and the integrity of the process.”

Training will cover laws prohibiting disruptions at polling places, threatening voters and carrying firearms within 150 feet of a voting location.

State laws also bar election tampering, obstructing poll workers and handing out food or drinks to voters waiting in line.

Police need to be aware of laws that protect voters but avoid the appearance of heavy-handed law enforcement, said Stephanie Jackson Ali, policy director for the New Georgia Project, a voting rights group.

“Police presence is often intimidating for some voters,” Ali said. “We ask that this training be thoughtful in the balance of bringing safety to polling places while also making sure voters have easy and comfortable access to the ballot.”

Officers will learn how to work with election officials and respond appropriately when there are problems, Harvey said.

The new training requirements take effect Jan. 1 for officers seeking to become certified law enforcement officers at any police academy in Georgia. Minimum training for incoming officers will increase from 408 to 810 hours.

Existing officers will be encouraged to take the training before November’s election, Harvey said.