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Campaign Security Hits the Hustings

​LEE HARVEY OSWALD, Squeaky Fromme, John Hinkley. Every American knows these names, because any threat to the president's security--regardless of the outcome--is national news. Candidates for local or statewide political office face similar risks without the benefit of Secret Service protection. These candidates turn to private security professionals.

Protecting a political candidate, his or her campaign staff, and family members provides a unique security challenge. The process entails many of the typical elements of executive protection, but these measures must be adapted to fit the distinct nature of a campaign.

The level of security required to protect a specific candidate is determined by the type of office sought, the candidate's public image and reputation, the attitude of the voters, the mode and direction of the campaign, and the campaign issues surrounding that office. Other important considerations include the conduct of the candidate when dealing with people, the method the candidate uses to interact with groups of voters, and for incumbents, the history of events that may have aroused emotions during their term.

Before taking on an assignment to provide protection for a political candidate, a security professional should examine the scope and nature of the office being pursued, as well as the type of campaign that will be conducted and its anticipated duration and the level of funding needed.

BEFORE ACCEPTING the assignment, the security professional should put together a budget based on the anticipated objectives and seek assurances that the campaign is committed to providing that level of funding. With or without committed funds, however, the security budget is likely to be limited. The security director may want to explore the possibility of obtaining some of the needed protective services through creative negotiations with third parties. For instance, in the author's experience in a recent statewide campaign, an alarm contractor agreed to put in an alarm system at no charge as a contribution to the campaign. While the security director is sure to gain the campaign's appreciation anytime he or she can garner such support from outsiders, it is best if that course of action is not security's only means of obtaining needed services.

As to the level of funding, that will naturally vary depending on the campaign's size and the cost of services in the area. On average, however, it is reasonable to request $1,000 per month for security for a statewide campaign. The installation and maintenance of an adequate security system at the headquarters alone could cost that much. In addition, security will want to conduct periodic electronic sweeps on the phones and other equipment, and it will have numerous expenses related to events and travel.

While campaign funding is often tight, it is not uncommon for other consultants to come in with prearranged budgets. The security consultant who does likewise will be viewed as more professional. Even if the requested funding is not completely approved, the security director will at least enter into the arrangement aware of the monetary constraints.

The security director should also establish with the candidate and the campaign manager a clear understanding of the role and its responsibilities. It is essential to learn everything about the candidate. Discussions should include his or her prior experiences with political events, business and social encounters, relationships with other people that may be a source of future difficulties, experiences that may develop into problems, and situations that indicate potential areas of concern. The security director should also get to know the campaign manager's background and relevant experiences.

Once the security director has a sufficient understanding of the candidate's platform, the atmosphere surrounding the campaign, and the campaign manager's style and method of operation, the next step is to learn the campaign plan for the type and manner of travel within the campaign areas as well as any plans for travel and events outside the campaign territory.

All of this groundwork provides a useful starting point in focusing security efforts. The security director will find, however, that campaigns are inherently unpredictable. Each day will include extraordinary circumstances requiring extensive changes in security operations. As the campaign evolves, for example, so will the media coverage regarding the candidate and the issues. Negative coverage may affect public attitudes and create potentially dangerous controversy.

The candidate will receive numerous invitations to speak at events. Security's efforts to prepare for these public forums can be complicated by last minute changes. In the case of the author's campaign experience, the indecision of the campaign manager was a factor. She would often revise the schedule on short notice and security had to adapt.

Although the security of a political candidate requires some special measures, basic security procedures remain an important ingredient of success in this type of assignment. One such fundamental step is the development of a specific written job description. It should spell out security's duties, responsibilities, authority, and position within the organization.

Staff Support. The security director must ensure that security is a goal shared by all. No security director, no matter how talented, can successfully complete this type of assignment without the trust and support of the candidate and campaign manager. Equally important is the support and cooperation of the full staff, including the volunteers, plus good coordination with all of the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

The campaign mayor may not include additional security staff, but it is sure to be limited. In the author's situation, there was one paid staff member with security training and one additional volunteer, both of whom provided the security director with support as an adjunct to other duties. Clearly under such circumstances, security responsibilities cannot be handled by security personnel alone.

To gain the staff's support for security, the security director must begin by offering to support the nonsecurity goals of the staff. Campaigns are hectic affairs during which the staff is likely to be working twel ve-to-eighteen-hour days. If the security director helps with that work load, he or she can gain the staff's appreciation and serve security ' s mission as well. When the author provided security, he helped with the publicity and the logistics for future events. In the process, security gained advance knowledge of the schedule, which provided valuable lead time for arranging secure transportation and security at the targeted sites.

The staff's support and cooperation is particularly important when events overlap.In the author's campaign experience, for example, several events often occurred simultaneously at different locations hundreds of miles apart. They each required explicit, appropriate security plans.

The candidate, of course, was only at one of the simultaneous events, and the security director would typically attend to the candidate's direct security. At another event, however, would be the candidate's mobile headquarters with the campaign manager and some personality recognized in that part of the state-a state legislator or former governor, for example. The campaign would have to provide security on that individual while he or she was representing the candidate.

To address these multiple-site situations, plans were written that provided clear operations directives and assigned specific persons to critical tasks to ensure that these actions were carried out in a manner that would minimize the risk of failure. In preparing such plans, the security director should follow these basic rules: Keep it simple. Provide complete instructions. Offer advance training. Maintain communications. Have a contingency plan. 

In many situations the candidate will be among large groups of supporters about whom the campaign has little or no intelligence. The security director must rely on the proper procedures for crowd control and close protection of VIPs in such settings. The staff should be trained to act on emergency contingency plans if the candidate becomes endangered in any way, and the candidate and staff should be briefed and prepared regarding possible escape and evasion procedures.

In the case of the example statewide campaign being discussed in this article, a special security concern with the candidate was his height. The candidate would regularly intermingle with crowds at parades, county fairs, and other public events where because of his small stature he would almost completely disappear from the view of others in his entourage. It became absolutely necessary that one or more of the campaign staff remain directly next to him on every occasion.

Standard Plans. A lack of advanced planning time, as mentioned earlier, was another concern. Often, the staff received only one or two day's notice for an event. That left little time for the preparation of security plans or for coordination with local law enforcement agencies, staff, and other parties. Sometimes these efforts had to be undertaken while en route to the event.

The solution was to develop standard security plans that provided procedures for the most common types of situations. These plans served as models that could be quickly modified to fit each new event as needed. All of the security procedures were reviewed by the campaign manager, shared with the appropriate staff members, and practiced as much as possible with regular drills.

Site Research. As part of the advanced planning process, the security director should thoroughly study the geographical areas that the candidate will visit during the campaign. Research should include the history of violence (particularly relative to political campaigns), the current atmosphere created by the issues, the temperament of the people who will be in those areas, and the resources of local law enforcement agencies.

Other Resources. The security director should establish communication with the FBI, state police, highway patrol, and whatever other agencies have jurisdiction and the manpower to provide a show of authority at a campaign site when and if it is necessary. Political campaigns can cause emotions to run high, especially when issues are sensitive, unemployment is high, or racial problems exist. Such emotional situations can produce the ingredients that lead to threats and possible violent actions against the candidate, his or her family, the campaign staff, and supporters.

Information. A political campaign deals with sensitive information about the candidate, the opponents, and other issues that may significantly affect the outcome of the race. Proper security measures must be established to protect the information.

Communication methods must be secured. In addition, security should determine that the individuals handling this information are trustworthy and that established procedures are practiced by everyone.

The security director should establish a working relationship with a reliable research organization that can conduct computer-based background investigations of personnel, staff, and volunteers. All checks should be conducted in accordance with applicable laws. In the author's campaign experience, background investigations were conducted for all staff handling sensitive materials. The service was negotiated as a contribution to the campaign.

The security director should also recognize that everything the campaign does or fails to do could potentially become a public issue. Since any negative publicity can harm the candidate, security should monitor all activities to minimize the potential for damaging issues to arise. In a sense, security is like the conscience of the campaign.

At times that may mean that the security director serves as an advisor; at other times he or she will become the devil's advocate and question the wisdom of potentially dangerous situations. When appropriate, security will serve as the campaign's in-house investigator, giving the exact findings to the candidate and the campaign manager.

In one case, a major volunteer was accused of drug dealing. It was the author's recommendation, as security director, that the candidate distance himself from this individual until the accusations were disproven and that even after that it might be wise to be cautious with that individual until the campaign had ended.

Situations like these are always difficult and should be handled with discretion, but they cannot be ignored. It is the job of the security director to control or limit the damage from any circumstance that could harm the success of the campaign. Every campaign will face similar situations, and security must be prepared to do what is legally proper and appropriate to protect the candidate, coordinating totally with the candidate and campaign manager.

The Mobile Office. When the candidate is on the road, security must minimize the possibility of a travel incident that would not only physically harm the candidate, but also potentially damage the candidate's reputation and public image. In the author's experience, the candidate's campaign was run out of a forty-foot custom coach (an upgraded Greyhound bus) that was equipped with several cellular telephones, fax machines, answering machines, computers, VCRs, and televisions. The equipment alone was worth about $50,000.

To reduce the potential for problems, security made sure that the drivers were properly trained, licensed, and advised how to handle emergency situations. Background investigations of the drivers were conducted, and security made sure that they did not have a driving record that would come back to haunt the candidate.

Access to the equipment on the coach also had to be tightly controlled and monitored. Alarms and other electronic equipment were installed to record the opening and closing of the door, so that security would know who entered the coach, when, and what equipment was used during the time that person was on board. Phone bills were regularly monitored and security conducted frequent, sometimes daily, inventories of the equipment to ascertain whether anything was missing or had been tampered with. If suspicions were raised, the area was searched for electronic listening devices.

Appearances were also a consideration when it came to meetings with the candidate in the coach setting. One potentially embarrassing situation that occurred during the author's campaign experience illustrates this point.

One evening, as part of a campaign event, the candidate's coach was parked near the state college. A football game was underway with thousands of people in attendance. The candidate never went into the games. He was there only for the exposure.

During the game, an attractive young woman wearing tight shorts came to the coach to talk with the candidate. At that time, the only people on board the coach were the candidate and the security director-both males. The candidate innocently welcomed this woman into his rolling office.

The security director, sensing the potential for this to appear inappropriate, stood up, opened the entrance door, and remained standing in total view of every passerby or observer to evidence that nothing improper was taking place in the coach. With some discretion and cautious maneuvering, the security director shortened the visit while still allowing the woman to get her questions answered. Upon her departure, the candidate was advised of the need to be more prudent in future situations.

A Family Affair. A campaign is a family affair. The candidate's wife,children, and in some cases grandchildren may attend events and be active in the campaign. In addition, brothers, sisters, and other relatives may want to work closely with the candidate.

Sometimes these relatives try to affect the security operations, and the security director will have to practice good diplomatic behavior while the requirement for security is growing. In the author's campaign experience, the wife of the candidate would often get lost during campaign events. The problem created concern and required special attention. The solution was to use some of the more trustworthy volunteers to watch over the candidate’s wife. That approach permitted security to focus on the protection of the candidate, work with operations to see that everything stayed on schedule, and coordinate with outside agencies as needed.

The security of a political candidate has taken on added importance in today's society. More citizens believe that politicians are dishonest or self-serving; as a result, the threat potential against candidates has increased. The security risks associated with a specific campaign may be heightened by any of the following factors:

 The size and population of the campaign territoryThe sensitivity of the issuesThe extent to which the office is heavily contestedThe level of rhetoric being used by opponentsThe socioeconomic character of the votersThe manner in which the media presents issuesThe candidate's demeanor when dealing with the press and public

As with any security assignment, protecting a political candidate can be interesting, rigorous, demanding, and sometimes frustrating. To some extent, campaign security is analogous to security at a rock concert that occurs on a regular schedule at various locations. One major difference, however, is that many of the people in the campaign crowds around the candidate may have other-than-favorable feelings toward the candidate.

In addition, security must work with and rely on volunteer personnel who are not always dependable and who sometimes lack the required dedication to complete their task. The security director must try to understand volunteers, and he or she must also be prepared to perform many nonsecurity tasks, as mentioned earlier.

Security professionals with executive protection expertise may want to consider branching into this growing area of security. Before committing to a particular candidate, however, the security director should satisfactorily answer these questions:

Is the candidate someone whose temperament will make security difficult or impossible? Is there a clear understanding of security's role in the campaign?Is the campaign headed by a competent, experienced campaign manager who has established an organization that is properly structured with the appropriate personnel?Is the campaign prepared to support the security effort?Is security given some assurance that it will receive the support and cooperation of key personnel, particularly that of the candidate?Is the campaign well financed and supported by its party?Does there seem to be a healthy productive relationship with the candidate, considering the demands security must make on him or her? The same should apply to the staff, the family, and key volunteers.Are long work hours, commotion, and a totally unpredictable schedule acceptable to the security director?Is the idea of being totally obedient to the campaign manager acceptable?

As these questions connote, campaigns are hectic affairs and providing security in such an atmosphere is at times difficult. The security director should be prepared to accept change as the only constant. Even so, with proper planning, coordination, and flexibility, the experience can be rewarding. Candidate protection is a segment of security well worth exploring for those with the proper skills and temperament.

Joseph A. Kochis, CPP, is president of Management Services, Chattanooga, Tennessee, a security consulting firm. He is a member of ASIS.