Paragould Police Department’s own website boldly proclaims the city was recently named the safest in Arkansas with a population over 20,000. So why the need for street crime units armed with AR-15 assault rifles?
The town of 26,500 residents located in the northeastern part of Arkansas about 88 miles northwest of Memphis, Tennessee, does have higher-than-average crime rates. In spite of the fact that there was only one murder in the years 2000-2010 and the overall violent crime rate is nearly 10 percent below the national average, certain types of crimes have soared. The assault rate has increased fivefold since 2000. Burglaries and thefts are up fourfold, reflected in a property crime rate 2.5 times the national average. There are also twice as many rapes per capita as the national average.
Police Chief Stovall doesn’t want it to get any worse. “If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, check for your ID,” Stovall warned.
The police chief recognizes that some citizens will be alarmed or offended by his policing strategy but said they shouldn’t be worried. “Anyone who’s out walking, because of the crime and the fear factor, could be stopped and interrogated”, he said. “We’re going to do it to everybody. Criminals don’t like being talked to.”
Stovall cited “fear” and “statistics” to justify the city’s controversial plan. “To ask for your ID, I have to have a reason,” he told the Paragould Daily Press. “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 you are here and what you are doing in this area.”
As the plan gained national attention, both Mayor Gaskill and the Police Chief have attempted to paint a more positive picture of their controversial plan. “The only people who are really going to be impacted by this are mostly the unknowns,” Mayor Gaskill told the Daily Press on Friday. “We just want to make a presence out there for the criminal element. And we want to make a presence for the people who are concerned and give them a sense of security.”
Paragould residents had mixed reactions to the news of the city’s plan. “Sorry, but I agree with the police,” Mary Davis wrote to the Daily Press. “You cannot even walk to your car without scumbags making threats. We have to do something. The thugs are winning because they use the law against us.”
Stanley L. Garner agreed. “I would love for the PPD to patrol my area,” he wrote. “Maybe they can hinder the thumping and bumping around B Street and stop some of the thieves around this area. If I’m outside, stop me by all means to find out if I live where I say. Thank the PPD and Mayor’s office.”
But others are not so enthusiastic about what they perceive as a police state plan. “Not only will this give Paragould a bad name and ruin our reputation for new businesses to come, but it will scare the hell out of our children,” a local father of two named Joe wrote to the Daily Press. “The problem with the crime rate will not be fixed by creating a foot clan of crooked cops dressed in SWAT gear carrying AR-15s.”
“This is going to look like the Brown Shirts patrolling Munich in 1939,” an unidentified resident wrote to the paper. “Scale it back. Armed police on a bike might be a better solution. This will likely get the Friendly City on CNN’s ‘Ridiculist.’”
“This isn’t East Berlin, it’s Arkansas,” Tommy Carter told Opposing Views. “I don’t care how much crime there is, you have no right to infringe on my rights without a warrant. Period!”
The Paragould Police Department issued a statement on its website attempting to calm fears about violations of citizens’ rights. It reads, in part:
Many citizens, through various media outlets, have expressed a concern about police “violating rights” or “violating the Constitution.” We have to abide by the same rules, regulations and laws that our citizens do. We are not out to violate anyone’s rights. Once we have an area that shows a high crime rate or a high call volume, it is our duty and obligation to find out why this is occurring and what we can do to prevent the trend from continuing. Therefore, identifying subjects in those problem areas help us solve crimes, and hopefully to prevent future crimes.
Here is the full detail from the 12/16 memo sent out from the chief.
"Armed Patrol" Clarifications
|Recently, an article was written by the Paragould Daily Press regarding our Street Crimes Unit. Following the article's appearance, several questions and concerns have arisen from our citizens regarding the tactics and methods in which the unit would be operating under. At this time, we want to clarify the questions and concerns that are currently circulating in the community.|
First, let's look at the purpose of the Street Crimes Unit. The purpose of this unit is to increase police presence in high crime rate areas of the city. These areas are identified by examining reports generated from calls for service, and also from citizens who call the Police Department or City Hall with safety concerns in their neighborhoods. Once an area has been identified as a high crime neighborhood, the select group of officers will saturate the area in an attempt to curb the criminal behavior that is plaguing that particular neighborhood. Officers will accomplish this in a variety of different methods. Officers will be working to identify residents in the affected area so that we can better serve our affected neighborhoods. 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. We will be keeping a record of those we contact. The record keeping is two-fold: First, we want to try to keep from over-lapping making contact with the same people multiple times. Once we know where people live, or that they always walk in that particular neighborhood, then we'll not need to repeat that contact. We will not be harassing citizens. Secondly, by documenting those of the criminal element, we have a record of that contact and where/when it occurred. An example of where this will be helpful is if a crime (i.e. burglary, breaking or entering) is reported the next morning. We then have a list of "go-to" suspects to question regarding that incident or incidents.
Another issue that seems to be of concern is the mention of Street Crimes Unit officers carrying AR-15 rifles with them during these patrols. 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.
Many citizens, through various media outlets, have expressed a concern about the police "violating rights" or "violating the Constitution". We have to abide by the same rules, regulations, and laws that our citizens do. We are not out to violate anyone's rights. Once we have an area that shows a high crime rate or a high call volume, it is our duty and obligation to find out why this is occurring and what we can do to prevent the trend from continuing. Therefore, identifying subjects in those problem areas help us to solve crimes, and hopefully to prevent future crimes.
In closing, the purpose of the Town Hall meetings is to inform you, the citizen, of a potential solution to combat the increase of crimes, both property related and violent. Understand, crime is fluid and ever-changing. We as law enforcement are forced to change with it. We are making an effort to educate our citizens via the Town Hall meetings about crime statistics in each area of town, crime prevention tips, and the Street Crimes Unit. At each meeting, we welcome questions and/or suggestions. Unfortunately, only 100 residents have taken advantage of the two opportunities we have given thus far. Our hope is for you to attend one of the remaining two meetings this week to hear our plans and so that we may get your input. The meeting this Tuesday, December 18th, will be held at Center Hill Church of Christ at 7p.m. The meeting on Thursday, December 20th, will be at the Paragould Community Center at 7 p.m.
If you would like to find out more information, please call someone in Paragould.
Police - (870) 236-7621
Mayors Office - (870) 239-7510