By J.D. Heyes
In a tactic that would have made Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Hugo Chavez proud, city officials in one Arkansas town are deploying police dressed in combat gear and carrying AR-15 assault rifles on foot patrol as a crime control measure, with permission to stop every citizen and ask them their business, even if they are not suspected of committing any crime.
According to the Paragould Daily Press, Paragould Mayor Mike Gaskill and Police Chief Todd Stovall told about 40 residents attending a town hall meeting recently that because of a recent spike in crime, they were essentially militarizing the city.
“[Police are] going to be in SWAT gear and have AR-15s around their neck,” Stovall told residents. “If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, check for your ID.”
‘We’re going to do this to everybody’
In justifying this civil rights outrage, Stovall said residents who aren’t doing anything wrong should save their indignation.
“We’re going to do it to everybody,” he said. “Criminals don’t like being talked to.”
Seeing no constitutional issues at all, Gaskill – who admitted he hadn’t consulted an attorney – went right along with the idea. He said innocent residents “may not be doing anything but walking their dog. But they’re going to have to prove it.”
We’re not sure what is worse – the obvious constitutional violations in these actions or the twisted logic these “public servants” are using to justify their actions.
Stovall told the local paper that normally police in the city don’t just stop people for no reason. But fear of crime, you see, has changed all of that. That fear is what gives cops the right to stop residents and, in essence, demand their papers.
“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.”
He also said the city’s crime stats alone are justification for demanding ID from anyone seen in public.
“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.”
What’s more, Stovall said that if anyone did not want to produce an ID, his officers would not back down.
‘We have zero tolerance’
“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.”
Do you hear that? It’s the sound of the ACLU’s lawyers salivating.
To be sure, other U.S. cities have used their SWAT teams for routine police patrols. Indianapolis and San Francisco have done so, according to a 1999 Boston Globe story. A 1997 study by criminologist Peter Kraska found that about one in five cities, at the time, used their SWAT teams for such mundane “beat” work.
What makes Paragould’s decision particularly troubling is that it is being made on a mere fear of future crime, not necessarily on the actual number of crimes being committed (the original source article doesn’t make the actual crime numbers clear). The other concern is that so many high-ranking officials – the mayor, police chief and the city attorney – see nothing wrong in what they are proposing.
Crime may be up in Paragould, but the last time we checked, Arkansas was still part of the union and the Constitution had not been repealed.