Officers gear up with riot training

Deputies in Richmond and Columbia counties are preparing for any civil unrest or overexuberant celebrating that might take place after next week's presidential election, officials confirmed Monday.

Although they were quick to say that no problems are anticipated, authorities said as many as 60 deputies will undergo an eight-hour training course Thursday -- learning crowd control and disbursement techniques.

Richmond County sheriff's Col. Gary Powell said the department will not have deputies stationed at local polling centers Nov. 4, but they will be ready to respond if necessary.

"We just want to be prepared in case something does happen, but I don't really anticipate something here," Col. Powell said.

Since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the department has issued road patrol deputies riot gear, including gas masks, but most have not undergone "formalized training," Col. Powell said.

Law enforcement agencies across the nation are adding officers and riot-control units and are putting SWAT teams on standby.

A story published last week in The Hill , a leading newspaper for Congress and Capitol Hill, said authorities from cities including Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia and Chicago -- Democratic candidate Barack Obama's hometown -- plan to deploy extra police. Many believe that some blacks would be angry if Mr. Obama loses, the article said.

It's something Mallory Millender, a longtime Paine College professor and community activist, said is not likely to happen unless there is the impression that the election was stolen from Mr. Obama.

"Otherwise I think there will be jubilation," Dr. Millender said. "I absolutely don't think there will be violence and disorder in a negative sense."

Capt. Steve Morris, a spokesman for the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, said that no matter which party wins the election, it will be an unprecedented event that requires added security.

"It will end in either the nation's first African-American president or the nation's first female vice president," Capt. Morris said. "It demands more preparation and a greater police presence."

His department will send about two-dozen of its Special Response Team deputies to train in Richmond County, he said.

Col. Powell said the biggest problem on Election Day might be the one they already have faced -- traffic. On Monday morning, advance voting traffic was a problem outside the Henry Brigham Center on Golden Camp Road as a large number of drivers entered and exited the parking lot.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.