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story.lead_photo.caption Supporters of a candidate cavort across the street from a polling place in Little Rock's Hillcrest neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, March 3, 2020. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/John Sykes Jr.)

With election season in full swing, Pulaski County law enforcement agencies are keeping watch at early polling sites and preparing in case of trouble at the polls.

Primarily they will be on hand to ensure that voters feel safe casting their ballots, officials said.

While the FBI is on guard against interference from foreign adversaries like China, Russia and Iran, FBI Little Rock spokesman Connor Hagan said anything that occurs at local polling locations will be primarily the responsibility of local agencies to handle.

Across the nation, many cities and counties are taking precautions at the polls.

New York City, Pittsburgh and Austin, Texas, law enforcement officials plan to be visible at polling sites. Those agencies have been training and preparing to handle any possible unrest that may arise, The Associated Press reported.

North Carolina's state election board -- concerned that the presence of uniformed law enforcement officers at polling places would leave voters feeling intimidated -- told police to stay away.

Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Phoenix, Ariz., are among cities where police will watch the polls -- but from a distance.

Pulaski County has more than 259,000 registered voters, the most in Arkansas. The county has 12 early voting sites. On Election Day, there will be 137 precincts across the county.

Little Rock police plan to expand its resources beyond what the department would normally do "out of an abundance of caution," according to spokesman Lt. Casey Clark.

"In my 25 years here, it's not that we didn't have some slight issues, but usually issues on Election Day are complaints about people politicking too close to a polling place or two people might get in a political disagreement here or there, but that's about it," Clark said.

All officers will be on standby during the election, Clark said, and officers may be seen at polling places throughout the city.

[RELATED: Full coverage of elections in Arkansas »]

"I can just tell you that everyone who works with the Little Rock Police Department as a sworn officer will be on standby, that we're prepared for all contingencies," Clark said.

"People will notice in every polling place in the city of Little Rock. They will see officers that will come by periodically, and that could be every five minutes to every 30 minutes throughout the entire voting process to ensure everything is going fine and there's not issues."

Clark said the increased visibility of police at polling places is to make residents feel safe while voting and confident that they will not be prevented from voting.

[RELATED: Full coverage of elections in Arkansas »]

"We have no direct threat information," Clark said. "Other than the political situation being a tad bit heightened, we don't have any direct threats on specific people or polling places."

Little Rock police have been working with other agencies, including the Pulaski County sheriff's office, that have assumed responsibility for security at the absentee ballot drop-off area. Clark said Little Rock police have been helping direct traffic for the absentee ballot drop-off drive-thru in downtown Little Rock.

Sheriff's office spokeswoman Kristin Knox said deputies have been helping with the ballot return drive-thru and communicating often with the clerk's office.

"We've been meeting with the clerk's office regularly, pretty much weekly, to discuss if there are any issues or problems," Knox said. "Of course we are there to patrol and go by those locations kind of in a rotation, and we're prepared to assist if needed."

To help voters feel more comfortable about the presence of law enforcement officers, deputies are dressing in plain clothes.

"You don't want to deter anyone from voting or turning in their ballot," Knox said.

North Little Rock police will also be handling security at polling places a bit differently, with officers being placed at polling sites in shifts. This is something that has not happened in any previous election to his knowledge, said spokesman Joe Green.

"We will be providing security at the Laman Library, which is the early voting site here in North Little Rock" through Nov. 2, Green said.

North Little Rock police will not increase the number of officers on standby for the election. The department does not have any concerns about violence at polling places at the moment, Green said.


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