In recognition of National Police Week and the upcoming 2024 election cycle, we sat down with Middlesex County, Massachusetts Sheriff Peter Koutoujian 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 currently have the honor of serving the residents of Middlesex County, Massachusetts as Sheriff. With 54 cities and towns and nearly 1.7 million citizens, Middlesex is the largest county in New England. As Sheriff, my primary responsibility is overseeing the Middlesex Jail and House of Correction in Billerica where we have initiated some of the most innovative treatment programming in the nation.
Prior to becoming Sheriff in 2011, I served as an assistant district attorney, but it was my 14 years as a member of the state legislature that most prepared me to be Sheriff. I served as the Chairman for public health matters, and in this role, I worked on issues related to the growing opioid crisis, mental health, and domestic violence. This experience not only informs many of the programs we have implemented in Middlesex, but it has been critical as we attempt to build statewide consensus on improvements to the criminal justice system.
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?
I say it all the time: threats of violence against election workers anger me as a law enforcement leader, as an elected official, and most of all as a citizen. These are our neighbors, and no one should be threatened at their workplace.
The threats and intimidation we have seen over the last few years aimed at election workers and volunteers have no place in our democracy. My fellow CSSE members came together because we wanted to make clear that we have the backs of election officials and poll workers in our communities. Furthermore, we keep the safety of all voters in mind as each election approaches.
While law enforcement and election officials have distinct roles to play in ensuring safe and secure elections, at our core we are all public servants. We may be on different sides of the aisle on some issues, but we are all connected as Americans who want to restore faith in the electoral process for current and future voters.
As the leader of one of the oldest sheriff’s offices in the country – but more importantly as a citizen and parent – I feel an obligation to keep the sanctity of the election process intact.
As public safety officials, it is imperative we work to quell the spread of false information, threats, violence, and intimidation which threatens the freedom of the election process. It is especially important that public safety agencies work together in support of election officials throughout the year, not just on Election Day. We should build relationships with our election officials just as we would with any community leader, and prepare for Election Day just as we would for any large-scale public event.
If you have also served as an election official, how does your law enforcement experience inform or influence that work?
My father, Peter Koutoujian Sr., served as the city clerk in my hometown of Waltham, Massachusetts. He devoted his career to this work, and he treated every Election Day like his own Super Bowl. I had the opportunity to serve as an elections monitor in Armenia with him many years ago, and I cherish the memory. I think of him every time I speak about my respect and appreciation for election workers.
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.
Partnerships between election officials and law enforcement are critical to ensuring free, fair, and secure elections. While election officials are charged with protecting the voting process and ballot counting, law enforcement agencies can investigate threats to voters and voting systems. Our role is an impartial and apolitical one, just as we would treat any investigation. By doing our jobs and letting election officials do theirs, we allow residents to have confidence not only in our elections but in our government.
Can you share some of your proudest accomplishments in your law enforcement experience where you feel you supported and advanced democracy?
I have made it a point to highlight the importance of elections not only in the community but inside the jail and house of correction. I am proud to have worked with the League of Women Voters to facilitate informational sessions inside the jail for individuals eligible to vote. We run civic engagement courses inside our facility and we also work to help those preparing for re-entry to register to vote. It is vital that we treat civic engagement as part of the re-entry process because it is a significant way for individuals to feel like a part of their community. It is a means of having their voices heard on issues important to their families and communities.
Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share about National Police Week?
It is more important now than ever that we honor those in public safety who put their lives on the line every day in a world of continually evolving threats and violence. Currently, there is a growing climate of distrust for police officers and law enforcement officers, so highlighting the work that our colleagues do every day to improve their communities is imperative.
Learn more about the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections here.