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6 things cops should do before running for office

There is no reason law enforcement officers have to remain on the sidelines of democracy


By James Spadola, P1 Contributor

Politics affects everything around us, and police officers often find themselves on the frontline of political decisions. However, there is no reason for law enforcement officers to remain on the sidelines of democracy, or to be lulled into thinking running for office is only something they can do after retirement.

While employed as a police officer in Newark, Delaware, I ran for state senate in 2016 against a 40-year incumbent. I lost the race, but found that you can still lose an election and win the process. By campaigning hard, I made lots of new friends and met so many people it is hard for me to consider it a loss.

James Spadola (far left) and friends give out free water ice in Wilmington, Delaware, September 2016. (Photo/James Spadola)
James Spadola (far left) and friends give out free water ice in Wilmington, Delaware, September 2016. (Photo/James Spadola)

For police officers looking to enter the political arena, here are six things to consider:

1. Check the law

Look at the laws in your state involving sworn police officers running for office. For example, I was protected by this Delaware Supreme Court advisory opinion based around a Delaware state trooper running for office in 1998. It stated that sworn police officers could campaign for office while employed, but would have to resign if elected.

2. Formulate talking points

As soon as you express interest in running for office, people will ask you why you want to run. It is important to have a response when asked, even before you officially announce your campaign. I recommend having three main issues to talk about. At least one of those should be a local, non-partisan issue such as a lack of parks, road maintenance, etc. Local issues will appeal to your future constituents probably more than your political issues, and are especially important if your party registration numbers are lopsided against you.

3. Get prior political experience

Ideally you’ve been involved with your political party and civic leaders for some time. If not, set up meetings with key political players and civic leaders at least two years before the election. Relationships are important. As Matt Meyer, County Executive for New Castle County, Delaware, said in my interview with him, campaigns in local politics are less about policy and more about relationships.

Civic leaders can provide insight into local issues you might not know about. Political leaders can offer insight into the political environment of the seat you are interested in, other potential candidates, your opponents’ backstories, history of previous races, etc. It is best to network before you officially announce you are running for office.

Depending on the political environment of the seat you would be running for, your party may or may not be supportive of your efforts. Be mindful that everyone has their own interests at play in an election. It is ultimately your decision if you want to enter the race, not the party’s.

4. Inform your chain of command before you announce

Advising your organization of your plans a few days prior to announcing is warranted and appropriate. They might think you are asking for permission, but regardless, tipping them off is the polite thing to do. I told the City of Newark around a week before I announced and the City was entirely neutral during my campaign, which is all I could ask for.

5. Make a media splash

I used my public information officer experience to draft a press release and had a supportive state senator insert a quote. I ended up getting coverage in a few different papers, including a major Delaware newspaper. If you run while still employed as a police officer, the rarity of that will be appreciated by the media.

6. Trust yourself

You will be told, “No, don’t do this.” People you trust will say it isn’t a good time for you to run. You will feel like you can’t win.  You might even get laughed at like Alex Torpey, who was elected mayor was he was 23. Every one of the officials I’ve interviewed for my Elected Officials of America podcast has countless tales of the issues they had in running. These are issues that are intrinsic to politics and you won’t be exempt. But just as others overcame the odds, so can you. A good democracy demands active participation and police officers have a lot to offer. It’s just a matter of stepping up.


About the author
James Spadola is an Iraq war veteran, a former police officer who created the #HugACop video, a previous state senate candidate in Delaware and the founder of Delaware Law Enforcement for Progress. He now runs Elected Officials of America, a podcast that features interviews with underdog elected officials who overcame the odds to win their race. Contact him at james@electedofficialsofamerica.com; follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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