Georgia requires election training for police officers

Georgia will be the first state in the country to require election training for its police officers, a clear response to growing tensions over election security since the 2020 presidential campaign.

The Georgia Peace Officer Training and Standards Council recently voted to add the training for new police officers. The move comes as poll workers and law enforcement officers in Georgia prepare for the 2024 election.

Basic training at Georgia police academies will soon include POST's one-hour course on election laws and election response, in which recruits learn about election interference, threats, de-escalation tactics and protection from voter intimidation.

Chris Harvey, POST's deputy managing director, said the training had become a necessity in today's tense political environment.

“In the past, police officers were not trained on what was legal or illegal at polling places,” Harvey said, pointing to decades of relatively smooth elections. “Elections were boring. Today, the post-election period is anything but boring.”

Since 2020, the number of threats faced by poll workers has increased significantly. According to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, nearly 20% of election officials have been threatened, often via text message, phone call, email or in person.

Harvey has experienced the consequences first hand.

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From 2015 to 2021, he served as the elections director in the Georgia Secretary of State's office, just as Georgia was becoming the epicenter for voter intimidation and election rigging. During the 2020 election, everyone from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to local poll workers faced targeted harassment and threats.

“2024 could be much more volatile, especially in swing states like Georgia,” Harvey warned. “I certainly hope nothing happens in Georgia, but if it does, don't you want the police officers on the job to know what the laws are?”

Incidents that were once considered inconsequential – such as a poll worker telling a voter to cover up his shirt with a candidate's name on it before entering the polling place – could now be seen as evidence of a “rigged election” or an “attempt to silence a particular political party,” Harvey says.

This heightened political climate can inflame the atmosphere at a polling station. POST believes that with the new training, police departments will be better prepared to respond to election-related calls.

Training begins for recruits on January 1. That's after the election, but all serving officers are encouraged to complete the course before November.

“We believe it will be helpful this year,” Harvey said. “It's an investment in Georgia's future.”