In response to a recent increase in crime, Paragould Mayor Mike Gaskill and Police Chief Todd Stovall offered residents at a town hall meeting Thursday night at West View Baptist Church what could be considered an extreme solution — armed officers patrolling the streets on foot.
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.”
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.”
Stovall said the foot patrols would begin on the east side of town and would eventually snake into the Pecan Grove area.
He said the police would follow where crime was taking place in order to snuff it out.
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.”