Paragould, AR – The mayor and police chief of Paragould, Arkansas announced at a town hall meeting last week that beginning in 2013 an armed SWAT team will be patrolling their streets. Police Chief Todd Stovall stated that such a bold move was necessary to “take back” the streets of their town.
According to Paraground Daily Press, The new street crimes unit will be outfitted in SWAT gear and will be armed with AR-15 assault rifles. Chief Stovall has asserted that the team will be stopping everybody they see wandering around on the streets. Anyone who is stopped will also be expected to produce proof of identification.
When questioned about constitutional rights, Stovall stated that the crime statistics in Paragould are enough reasonable cause to question citizens and demand their ID. He also explained that anyone failing to produce identification would be charged with obstructing a governmental operation. During the town hall meeting Chief Stovall stated:
“To ask you for your ID, I have to have a reason. “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.”
City Attorney Allen Warmath pointed out that while the questioning was not illegal, probably cause and the total circumstances of an arrest would likely be examined by a judge during any court proceedings.
Paragould Mayor Mike Gaskill agrees with the plan, but is more reserved. Gaskill suggested that the armed SWAT team will focus primarily on people who are unknown and those thought to be involved in criminal activity. He urged citizens to be more proactive with reporting crime and also in descriptions of suspects. Gaskill stated that this would help the SWAT team to respond more effectively.
RT.com reports that Paragould has had a significant increase in crime, compared to other cities and the entire State of Arkansas:
“Paragould has had a property crime index rating more than double the national average since 2007. Rapes, burglaries, thefts and assaults per capita are also well above the mean there.”
Chief Stovall is plans to continue discussing the plan with members of the community during two more scheduled town hall meetings before the end of the year.
The two town hall meetings previously scheduled to further discuss this issue were cancelled by the Paragould Police Department. The notification, found on the department’s website states:
“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.”