Police state might be a tad bit strong. Police city might be more appropriate. However, it’s still a pretty scary thing to watch.
Paragould, Arkansas Mayor Mike Gaskill and Police Chief Todd Stovall offered up a “solution” for the towns crime problem. That solution? Well, it looks like something out of a dystopian novel:
Stovall told the group of almost 40 residents that beginning in 2013, the department would deploy a new street crimes unit to high crime areas on foot to take back the streets.
“[Police are] going to be in SWAT gear and have AR-15s around their neck,” Stovall said. “If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, check for your ID.”
Stovall said while some people may be offended by the actions of his department, they should not be.
“We’re going to do it to everybody,” he said. “Criminals don’t like being talked to.”
Gaskill backed Stovall’s proposed actions during Thursday’s town hall. “They may not be doing anything but walking their dog,” he said. “But they’re going to have to prove it.”
Stovall said the foot patrols would begin on the east side of town and would eventually snake into the Pecan Grove area.
So citizens engaged in a lawful activing - like walking their dog - have to prove that they’re not up to no good? Will police officers in Paragould phrase their requests as “Papers, please?” Possibly. Here’s more about Stovall’s warped thinking behind this draconian move:
Normally, police would not stop individuals for simply walking on the street, but Stovall said the level of crime in certain areas and concerns from residents gave his officers the right to institute the actions announced at the town hall event.
“This fear is what’s given us the reason to do this. Once I have stats and people saying they’re scared, we can do this,” he said. “It allows us to do what we’re fixing to do.”
Stovall further elaborated on the stop-and-ID policy Friday morning, claiming the city’s crime statistics alone met the threshold of reasonable suspicion required to lawfully accost a citizen.
“To ask you for your ID, I have to have a reason,” he said. “Well, I’ve got statistical reasons that say I’ve got a lot of crime right now, which gives me probable cause to ask what you’re doing out. Then when I add that people are scared…then that gives us even more [reason] to ask why are you here and what are you doing in this area.”
Stovall said he did not consult an attorney before announcing his plans to combat crime. He even remained undaunted when comparing his proposed tactics with martial law, explaining that “I don’t know that there’s ever been a difference” between his proposals and martial law.
Stovall said task force members would not even be required to be looking for a specific suspect before stopping citizens on the street.
Now, apparently officials have backed off just a bit off of this extreme stance. However, the fact that a chief law enforcement officer and his elected mayor thought this was a good idea is terrifying.
In a free society, even one as close to tyranny as ours is, one is free to walk around town without fear of being stopped and having to prove they’re not up to no good. Besides, how does someone prove their innocence on the street? It’s the officer’s opinion versus your word, so if they don’t believe you, you go to jail? How is that legal?
Hopefully, a court will show that Stovall’s ideas are not only tyrannical, but illegal as well. A high crime rate should hardly be probably cause for detaining law abiding citizens engaged in lawful activities. If that’s the case, then crime rates could begin to be skewed upward to justify such behavior from police.
Unfortunately, I’m concerned that the courts could uphold this kind of thing. When coupled with more and more encroachement on the Fourth Amendment, attacks on the Second Amendment, and more and more people wanting to take a shot at the First Amendment…well, this may well become a country I don’t want to be in anymore.