In recognition of National Police Week and the upcoming 2024 election cycle, we sat down with Chris Harvey, CSSE member, Deputy Executive Director of the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, and former DeKalb County Police Officer, to recognize the work of law enforcement officers and the sacrifices they make, including their contribution to keeping our elections safe and secure.
Can you describe your current or past role in law enforcement?
I started my law enforcement career in late 1994 with the DeKalb County Georgia Police Department. I worked patrol for about two years, and then homicide for three years. I then went to work as a Homicide Investigator for the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, where I eventually became the Chief Investigator. In 2000, I worked on the case of the incumbent DeKalb County Sheriff who orchestrated the murder of his elected successor before the sheriff-elect could take office. In 2005, I went to work for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office where I directed their Cold Case Homicide Task Force. In 2007, I became the Chief Investigator for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office where I specialized in election investigations.
In 2015, I pivoted from law enforcement when I was appointed as the State Election Director for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. We endured six years of lawsuits and public turmoil that culminated in death threats to the Secretary of State, myself, and other election officials in conjunction with the 2020 Presidential Election.
In 2021, I returned to a law enforcement position as the Deputy Executive Director of the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (P.O.S.T.). The Georgia P.O.S.T. is the state agency that sets training standards, certifies, and disciplines approximately 55,000 peace officers across the state.
With respect to your law enforcement experience and role as a member of CSSE, why do you think it is important that our elections are free, fair, and secure?
As an American, I hold in high esteem the democratic processes by which we govern ourselves. As a former election director and long-term police officer, I have seen first-hand how lies and misinformation can harm the election process and how that can corrode our ability to govern ourselves. The election world has changed dramatically since 2015, and sadly, threats and interference have increased. This has caused a mass exodus of experienced, skilled, and principled election workers, and in some cases has eroded public confidence in some election results. The days of “boring” elections are a thing of the past, and as public safety experts, law enforcement has a critical role to play in preserving the atmosphere of safe and secure elections for everyone.
As dedicated public servants, and as citizens, election officials deserve the cooperation of law enforcement not only to keep themselves safe, but also to preserve the fairness, accuracy, and security of elections. Partnerships and coordination between law enforcement and election officials can keep everyone involved in elections safe and instill confidence that the processes of elections are being handled legally and without illegal interference.
You have also served as an election official, how does your law enforcement experience inform or influence that work?
Having been a law enforcement officer for over 20 years, and an election official for six years, I have a unique perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of both the law enforcement and election environments. Elections tend to be more static, planned, and predictable events, while law enforcement tends to be much more dynamic and unpredictable. Therefore, it is essential that these two different kinds of officials establish relationships and plans that maximize the need and opportunities to work together, and to respect the needs and expertise of both groups.
Law enforcement is generally most successful when they are informed about potential issues and can develop multiple contingency plans, but law enforcement plans are only helpful if they work within the limitations faced by election officials. For example, simply relocating a polling place to another location might sound like a fairly easy “fix” for law enforcement, but election officials know that transporting large amounts of equipment to a location that must meet certain criteria (Americans with Disabilities Act access, for example) and letting the public know about such changes are a complicating factor for election officials. Likewise, should an event occur at a polling place and the place becomes a crime scene, the standard police practice is to seal the area while an investigation is taking place. How will police deal with the needs of the public to have access to cast their votes (within a limited time frame) with their need to conduct an investigation? These discussions should be had well before the event takes place.
What value have you observed in partnerships between law enforcement and election officials? Feel free to share an example of how you have worked with election officials in your role in law enforcement.
In cases where these partnerships are established, the results are almost palpable. The election officials feel supported, valued, and secure, and the law enforcement agencies feel much more confident about when, where, how, and why they might need to respond to incidents. Also, many states have laws in the election code that most law enforcement officers have never seen or had to respond to. Educating and training law enforcement on specific laws they may be called to enforce, and understanding the expectations of the election officials greatly reduces the likelihood of overreacting or not responding appropriately to a situation.
Another advantage is that when these relationships are created, communication is much more effective. Where I’ve seen good success, there are designated liaisons within each election and law enforcement entity so that specific people talk about specific plans, problems, and solutions. For election officials to know that they can call a specific person at a law enforcement agency at any time, greatly reduces that likelihood that something critical will be missed by either side.
Can you share some of your proudest accomplishments in your law enforcement experience where you feel you supported and advanced democracy?
In over 20 years working in law enforcement, about half of which was in homicide, I was never personally threatened with death. It took working in elections to get my name, a picture of my home, and my home address on the dark web, with an email telling me I would be killed for being Georgia’s election director. When I tell my story, people sit up and take notice.
The last two years working with CSSE and getting the opportunity to speak with law enforcement and election officials across the country has been an incredibly humbling experience. I know first-hand how hard the local election officials in Georgia worked and what they endured in the tumult of the 2020 election and its aftermath because I went through it alongside them. Those men and women did an incredible job under almost impossible conditions.
Hearing the stories and meeting election officials who have had similar stories to me, and in some cases, much worse stories than mine, has been both inspiring and sobering. These election officials, like the Georgia election officials I know personally, are some of the most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet. They love their communities and work incredibly long hours to offer their neighbors the chance to vote and have their voices heard. Meeting these people gives me hope that the vast majority of Americans value and respect their election officials and the election process, just like most Americans value and respect their law enforcement officers.
Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share about National Police Week?
I hope that people take the time to consider the job that law enforcement officers are asked to do, and ask themselves how they can support these brave men and women. At the same time, I hope that these same people recognize that these officers are husbands and wives and sons and daughters and moms and dads. I would hope for one word to come to the minds of most people, and that word is “gratitude.”
Learn more about the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections here.