The Cambridge Police Department has deployed officers to monitor ballot drop boxes and polling locations around the city in a bid to ensure next week’s elections run safely.
The police force is also limiting officers’ time off and increasing the number of staff available on and in the days following Election Day, which is Nov. 3.
CPD spokesperson Jeremy Warnick said the department has increased its presence due to nationwide concerns regarding interference in the ongoing federal elections and the potential for civic unrest.
Cambridge usually deploys officers to polling locations during elections. This year, however, CPD has taken additional measures due to “heightened concern.”
“Here in Cambridge, we’re not aware of any potential threats or anything along those lines,” Warnick said. “It’s a somewhat tense environment nationally, because of this election and other factors involved, so because of that [we] wanted to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to provide the safest environment for those involved.”
The department is also arranging access to certain resources, including K-9s, if needed.
Increasing use of mail-in ballots this cycle has spawned concerns over when election officials will count votes and when a winner will be declared in the presidential contest.
CPD began assigning officers to polling locations on Oct. 17 — the first day of early voting in Massachusetts. The department also dispatched officers to frequently patrol drop boxes on Oct. 26 after a man allegedly set fire to a Boston ballot box, destroying dozens of ballots.
Cambridge native Zev K. Shapiro ’24 said he was not concerned about interference in Cambridge’s voting process until he read reports of the ballot box arson in Boston.
Shapiro said he understands CPD’s decision to strengthen its presence in the city around the election. He said he believes Cambridge residents — whom he described as politically engaged and liberal — would take to the streets to protest peacefully if Trump declared victory prematurely.
“If President Trump declares that he’s won before he’s won, I could imagine that there’ll be protests,” he said. “That outcome where he doesn’t accept the results, or the results are challenged and end up in court in the Supreme Court, I could imagine the same kind of protests, but you know, I’d imagine they to be very peaceful.”
Cambridge City Councilor Patricia M. Nolan ’80 also said in an interview that she believes Cambridge residents will react peacefully to the results of the election.
“Do I expect unrest? Yes,” she said. “Not that we don’t have extremes here, not that we don’t have competing ideologies or political viewpoints, but the sense is that Massachusetts is not one of the places that is most likely to erupt in violence.
Nolan cited peaceful demonstrators who protested in Boston this past summer over the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police. She criticized local police’s response to the protests, however, and said she hopes law enforcement will be better prepared to handle protests going forward.
“There was an overreaction on the part of the police in a couple of those instances. That was the police problem, not the protesters’ problem,” she said. “My hope is that the police at all levels have learned.”
Harvard Anthropology Ph.D. candidate Jarrett M. Drake said he does not believe an increase in police presence at polling stations around the country will make voters feel safer.
“I don’t feel safer when police show up anywhere,” he said. “I don’t occupy a body that police tend to treat with gentleness, with care, with concern.”
Drake said people attempting to exercise their democratic rights might react fearfully to a heightened police presence given the history of police at odds with democratic movements.
“Let’s say that there was a ballot question about defunding the police and the police were present,” Drake said. “What it insinuates is that ‘we’re here to protect democracy and protect free speech’, whereas all of the videos from bystanders and journalists for the last however many months and years have actually shown the police are very much there to suppress the speech of certain types of speakers.”
Warnick, the Cambridge police spokesperson, said the department will monitor the situation before deciding when to scale down its increased presence.
—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.