Preparing for presidential campaigns and campus protests

These thirteen tips will help you tackle the security challenges associated with planned political actions.

Editor’s note: This article provides tips on how colleges can prepare for planned political actions and demonstrations. While these practices also apply to presidential campaigns, campuses hosting candidates will be required to cooperate with the Secret Service and take additional measures described here and here.

1. Be familiar with state and university free speech policies and procedures. In Virginia, the right to free speech must be protected unless a protester is obstructing the activities of the university. Check your state and university’s free speech policies. Your institution may not have an explicit policy. Whether you have a policy or not, it’s wise to explore various “what-if” scenarios with your institution’s legal department.

Article author John Weinstein will present at the 2024 Campus Safety Conference July 8-10 in Atlanta on two topics: “Armed Personnel: Security Improvement or Liability?” and “The Intersection of Campus and Community Policing.” For more information and to register, visit

2. Check with your state fusion center. State fusion centers are valuable sources of intelligence. If you inquire a few weeks before the event, they can help you with your planning by telling you what to expect.

3. Have your department trained in how to properly respond to civil disturbances. Most college police departments have no training in civil unrest; a protest, even with only passive resistance, will overwhelm normal response options. When a protest becomes large and unruly, you’ll wish your department had civil unrest training and equipment. If you don’t have this important capacity, you will likely find that you do not have enough officers to cover the event without increasing overtime costs and reducing coverage at other locations. Even if you mobilize all your officers, you may not have enough manpower to cover a large protest, let alone the rest of your campus. Without civil unrest training, you may have to rely on neighboring jurisdictions.

4. Review mutual assistance agreements with local jurisdictions. Plan together with local authorities the support you need, whether it is civil unrest personnel, transport of detainees, traffic control, etc.

5. Review your organization’s use-of-force policies and procedures. Events and contingencies on the street are never as clearly defined as they appear in your General Orders, especially for officers who do not regularly participate in such events. Head-to-head discussions about the minimum threshold for use of force, the escalation ladder, etc. will give officers confidence that they are prepared and hopefully avoid lawsuits. Also, leaders should consider how much violence a use of force report will cause and whether the abundance of reports will overwhelm your report review process.

6. Remind agents that they may be recorded. Despite Supreme Court rulings allowing officers to be recorded and photographed in the normal course of their duties (as long as officer safety, crime scene integrity, and several other limited exceptions are not compromised), it is surprising how much officers respond poorly, even illegally. when confronted by someone who wants to record them. Discuss the law with your officials to minimize embarrassment and the threat of lawsuits. Also remember that officers may photograph protesters on campus who have no expectation of privacy. You never know who you capture on film. If arrests are made, photos can help you identify suspects and support your case against them.

7. Review disorderly conduct and related codes. Make sure your officers check all laws, university policies, and municipal ordinances regarding disorderly conduct, illegal gatherings, etc.

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