It's been frequently posited that the US is slowly becoming a police state, what with the near-constant surveillance
of citizens, the "Constitution-free" zone
surrounding our borders, the endless hassles
of attempting to board a plane, NYC's controversial "stop-and-frisk
" program, and the many security agencies that either were created
or greatly expanded
Apparently, "slowly becoming" a police state isn't fast enough for the police department of Paragould, Arkansas. In response to an increase in crime, the Paragould PD will be deploying armed officers into high crime areas, clad in SWAT gear, to check IDs on any residents they happen to encounter
[Police Chief] 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."
You know who else doesn't like to be talked to by police armed with AR-15 assault rifles and dressed in tactical gear? Damn near everybody. Since it is written exactly nowhere
that US citizens are required to carry identification at all times, this sort of "papers, please" activity is going to please no one
and do very little to make anyone feel any "safer." (And Stovall, your jurisdiction doesn't really cover things like determining what should or shouldn't offend constituents.)
Despite the obvious issues with this plan, the mayor is fully onboard and ready to start violating some rights!
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."
Fantastic. Now pets will need some ID as well, not to mention be willing to sign a statement in your defense, should the need arise. Despite the dubious aspects of this plan (of which there are several), Chief Stovall has convinced himself that not only is this necessary
, but fully justified
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."
I'm sorry, but crime statistics in aggregate do not automatically convert citizens into "suspects." I'm completely baffled that someone would actually say, out loud, that crime statistics equal "reasonable suspicion." That's some messed up police work right there. And it gets worse. Here's some more statements from Stovall, which range from "flabbergasting" to "you DO realize you're still on the record?"
Individuals who do not produce identification when asked could be charged with obstructing a governmental operation, according to Stovall... "I'm hoping we don't run across [any] of that," Stovall said. "Will there be people who buck us? There may be. But we have a right to be doing what we're doing. We have a zero-tolerance. We are prepared to throw your hind-end in jail, OK? We're not going to take a lot of flack..."
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.
Note that Stovall did not consult an attorney. If he had, he might not be as breezily confident about his "Police State of Paragould, Arkansas" plan. Here's what City Attorney Allen Warmath had to say, which attempts to walk back a some of Stovall's claims.
Warmath said while he had not directly spoken to Stovall, he understood that the street crimes unit would actually be less confrontational than Stovall let on...
Stovall himself has taken to the Paragould PD website to walk back a few of his claims as well
As for having IDs, he said citizens wouldn't have to worry about that, either. He said the police would not arrest residents solely for failing to produce identification when asked.
, perhaps prompted by the heat he's received for his earlier statements.
Most often, this identification process will be nothing more than making contact with a subject, handing them a business card, and asking if they live in the area and if there's anything we can do for them. During hours in which crime seems to be more prevalent (i.e. between the hours of 11pm and 5 am), our process will become more stringent. We will be asking for picture identification. We will be ascertaining where the subject lives and what they are doing in the area.
Well, that is very
different from the "zero tolerance" toss-your-non-ID-having ass in jail portrait he painted before the criticism began rolling in. Suddenly, it looks like an actual police operation that might fall within the limitations imposed on it by the Constitution. Stovall also clarifies the SWAT team look he was playing up earlier.
To give a little background information, several of our patrol officers already carry AR-15 rifles in their patrol vehicles. The AR-15 and police work is nothing new. Our Street Crimes Unit will not be wearing them constantly. That would be impractical. As we have stated in our meetings, our main purpose of mentioning this was to prepare our residents in the event that they saw an officer armed with one. When our officers deploy into areas where there is the potential for contacting several subjects in a high-crime area, that is when the potential deployment of AR-15's will occur.
Stovall states the new patrols are not out to "violate anyone's rights" but it's hard to square this intention with the thought process that turns aggregate crime statistics into a "reasonable suspicion" blank check. Finally, he bemoans the lack of attendance at town hall meetings held by the police department regarding its new anti-crime street patrol (fewer than 100 people attended the first two meetings)... and then cancels the remaining town hall meetings because they might be "unproductive" (and full of angry citizens)
In the interest of public safety, we have elected to cancel the remaining Town Hall Meetings.
We have corresponded with numerous residents and non-residents today alone who were both supportive and against our Street Crimes Unit and Town Hall Meetings. Some of the correspondance has caused us great pause in whether or not the meetings should remain as scheduled.
As the police department, it is our duty to protect ALL residents and non-residents from harm. We feel that with the strong feelings on both sides of the Street Crimes Unit issue, a safe and productive meeting would not be the probable outcome.
Wow. I can't imagine why people might be angry... or why Chief Stovall might want to dodge the backlash. This is the fundamental disconnect infects so many of those who create and enforce laws. Chief Stovall feels these tactics are completely justified and doesn't even flinch when they're compared to martial law. This is the person calling the shots, someone who institutes something that skirts the very edge of Constitutionality without even consulting an attorney
. The message being sent is that the police will play by their own rules, with the citizens expected to be helpful, grateful, cooperative and, at all times, in possession of an ID, a clean criminal record and full justification for any suspicious "walking around" they might be doing.
And when the backlash hits, Stovall first tries walking his statements back before turning around completely and running away from the issue. So much for listening to "suggestions" and "feedback." Say hello to armed patrols and "papers, please."