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Paragould police plan draws constitutional concern

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was published December 18, 2012 at 9:43 a.m.

— A plan in Paragould to have police officers saturate high-crime areas and ask people in them to provide identification has generated controversy in and outside the small northeast Arkansas city with some questioning the constitutionality of the operation.

The Paragould Police Department reports on its website that it will use its Street Crime Unit to "curb criminal behavior" in problem parts of the city by saturating the area with officers who will at times carry AR-15 rifles. Messages left with Police Chief Todd Stovall and Mayor Mike Gaskill weren't immediately returned Tuesday morning.

The agency said officers will typically be making contact with people in the neighborhoods, handing out business cards and asking whether they live nearby. But at times with high crime rates, the program will become more "stringent," the department wrote.

"We will be asking for picture identification" between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., police said in the website statement. "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."

More than two dozen people have posted on the Police Department's Facebook page in recent days with many questioning whether the tactic should be allowed under the Constitution.

One posting on the page from a Facebook user identified as Mike Holifield questioned the legality of the plan as well as its likely effectiveness.

"Going into a neighborhood after the fact and harassing EVERYONE will only create more fear and mistrust of the department," Holifield said in the post.

Others, though, voiced support for the operation as a way to keep streets safe.

Brenda Dunavin, who owns Terry's Cafe in Paragould, said she favors the police plan because she's seen firsthand how crime has increased. She said her business has been broken into multiple times.

Dunavin said she is not concerned that the tactics might violate the Constitution.

"I really don't feel like that matters right now," she said, noting someone threw a brick through the back door in the latest incident. "It's not constitutional for [criminals] to behave that way. Something's got to be done to protect everyone."

The Police Department said the contact would not constitute harassment of residents, adding that the record-keeping will be beneficial because it will create a "list of 'go-to' suspects" in the event of a crime. The activity is not a constitutional violation, police said.

"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," police wrote. "Therefore, identifying subjects in those problem areas help us to solve crimes, and hopefully to prevent future crimes."

Police said the officers would not always be armed with AR-15s on their foot patrols, but that it would be possible if they were deployed "into areas where there is the potential for contacting several subjects in a high-crime area."

The agency had scheduled four town-hall meetings to discuss crime rates and the new policy, but the agency's website indicates that only two were held before the rest were canceled in "the interest of public safety."

"As the police department, it is our duty to protect ALL residents and non-residents from harm," police wrote in a separate statement on the meetings. "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."

Paragould, which has a population of roughly 26,500 people, sits about 20 miles northeast of Jonesboro in Greene County.


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djigoo says... December 18, 2012 at 11:44 a.m.

Heil Hitler, Paragould!

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DontDrinkDatKoolAid says... December 18, 2012 at 12:22 p.m.

Well come to the Neo Police State.
Goes to probable cause to have one show their papers comrade.

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SRBROTHERINLAW says... December 18, 2012 at 12:42 p.m.

Questioning or talking to the residents? Preserving the peace and keeping residents safe is the job of the police. If you are ascertaining the identities of the residents in the neighborhood i see no problem nor do i see the people objecting. Only the criminal element who just "stays there" will be objecting.

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RBBrittain says... December 18, 2012 at 1:17 p.m.

AR-15 rifles? Isn't that what the Sandy Hook killer used? If I were a kid in Paragould schools I don't know if I'd feel safer (cuz it's a cop) or scared...

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Felina says... December 18, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.

People complain that cops cant be everywhere and when they do try to maintain more of a presence in the community there are called facists! I would love for more cops to patrol my neighborhood. I don't care if they ask for my papers or not!

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T6 says... December 18, 2012 at 1:39 p.m.

ACLU Mr. Mayor?

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Jfish says... December 18, 2012 at 2:41 p.m.

I agree with Felina, cops used to walk a beat in many cities and it was a good thing. If I was a cop, I would prefer do this some of the time rather than ride around in a car for 8 to 10 hours per day.

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Vickie55 says... December 18, 2012 at 2:50 p.m.

If I am not intent on causing trouble, why should I be concerned about a police officer's presence in my neighborhood? I'm thinking that the people who are so upset about this "police state" must have a reason to not want the police watching them.

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Jjackk says... December 18, 2012 at 8:06 p.m.

What about the stupid quote about giving up liberty for safety? Why do you people quote it on one article then cheer it on for another? If its legal the fine, it is is not then they are law breakers too. But then again you people don't mind when your favorite politicians break the law, just the ones you don't vote for.

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