Bringman: Three Rivers Police Will Not be Stationed at Polls

Three Rivers Police Chief Tom Bringman poses for a photograph at the "Back the Blue" event held in Three Rivers on Saturday, Sept. 26. (Dave Vago|Watershed Voice)

The Three Rivers Police Department (TRPD) will not provide officers or auxiliaries at the polls on Election Day next week, Chief of Police Tom Bringman said Thursday. Earlier this month, in response to a directive from Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson banning the open carry firearms within 100 feet of polling locations, Bringman said auxiliaries would be stationed at polls in the interest of public assurance. However, a judge blocked Benson’s directive earlier this week.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said it is appealing that ruling. Proponents and defenders of Benson’s directive say the open carry of firearms carries the risk and perception of attempted voter intimidation.

Last week, two statewide law enforcement associations, one representing sheriffs and one chiefs of police, issued statements saying Benson’s directive was unconstitutional and unenforceable because it was not backed by any statute passed by the Michigan legislature. St. Joseph County Sheriff Mark Lillywhite said his department planned not to enforce Benson’s directive because there was no statute under which he could arrest anyone for carrying firearms near polls.

In comments at the same time, Bringman said because all Three Rivers voting precincts report to a polling station at Riverside Church, TRPD’s policy on firearms would be subject to Riverside’s own rules. At that time, a TRPD firearms specialist was investigating those rules, but Bringman was still planning to station auxiliaries at the polls and check in there himself from time to time.

In comments to Watershed Voice Thursday morning regarding the results of the Riverside rules inquiry, Bringman said, “we found out as far as Riverside Church goes, when it’s a polling station, it’s considered an open polling station. So, the rules involving places to vote would apply. The fact that it’s a church, it wouldn’t be a church during the polling timeframe.”

Therefore, Bringman said, “our officers are going to be doing basically the same thing as the Sheriff’s Department. All the other departments in St. Joe County are going to be doing this. We’re going to be responding to all calls, and we will be acting as peace officers just to keep the peace and to make people comfortable and let them know that they are safe to vote.”

Contrary to what he expected last week, Bringman said, “We’re not going to have officers stationed there like I first thought we were, concentrating on trying to make sure everybody felt safe. But, that’s just not a normal practice to be doing that at a polling station.”

To manage the possibility of threats, TRPD will be “responding to all calls, and any suspicious calls should come in through Central Dispatch. We’ll check all of them, and we’ll be going as peacekeepers,” Bringman said. “Other than that, the open carry part, they can’t they can’t loiter and stuff like that, just in regular basic rules.”

Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.