“We’re going to have what I would consider a significant law enforcement presence, but I‘ll qualify that by saying that we’re not going to have anybody stationed at any of the polling places,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
The sheriff said Pinellas County is teaming up with city police departments on Election Day for one purpose:
“We want to make sure that everybody has uninterrupted access, that they can go vote peacefully,” said Gualtieri. “It’s totally unprecedented. We’ve never done anything like this before. Election days don’t have a law enforcement presence. If there was ever and I don’t recall any issues, it would be handled just like a regular call for service with on-duty personnel.”
About 60 to 70 officers and deputies will patrol the county’s polling areas should there be any potential problems, Gualtieri said.
During early voting in Pinellas County, the sheriff assigned deputies to the county’s five early voting sites, where tensions flared among early voters.
“Unfortunately, the rhetoric is high. People are tossing barbs back and forth at each other, and sometimes those verbal barbs do escalate and we’ve had that. And the deputies were able to deescalate it and deal with some of those issues,” said Gualtieri. “They were mainly verbal but very loud, and some of the things were inappropriate that were being said. People just needed to calm down, and I think the deputies presence calmed it down before it became a problem.”
The sheriff added that deputies responded to arguments outside of polling places, too.
Pinellas is not the only county with a plan to keep voters safe. While the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office does not have deputies specifically assigned to polling places, a spokesperson told FOX 13 every deputy will keep an eye out in their area.
Leading up to Tuesday, Hillsborough County elections officials weighed in on what they’ve seen.
"We've seen 14 days of early voting where people have been standing in lines. There's been no heckling. They've been talking, different parties talking to each other,” said Craig Latimer, the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.
Respect among voters is what Sheriff Gualtieri hopes deputies and officers will see more of on Election Day.
“I think everybody should breathe, look in the mirror and treat people how you want to be treated,” said Gualtieri.
The Pinellas County Sheriff said they have the county’s 165 polling places divided up into 19 areas for the group of officers and deputies to patrol.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said they will have deputies drive by polling sites in their area repeatedly during their shift, and deputies will be ready to respond if needed. HCSO said a poll worker is appointed as the poll deputy to maintain safety at the polls but that person cannot arrest anyone.