by Max Brantley
Then there is the notion that an armed civilian, after a little NRA safety course, is a guarantee of good judgment in this most sensitive of roles with very vulnerable charges.
Consider Paragould, where the supposedly professional police force floated the idea of roaming the streets with SWAT officers armed with AR-15s and promised to demand ID without reason as a means of discouraging crime.
The police now say they'll respect constitutional guidelines in their community policing.
But I ask you to read their most recent letter on the matter and the inquiry from the ACLU of Arkansas to which it responds. I don't see yet anything but general assurances, rather than specific commitments, from an agency that is currently not exactly inspiring of confidence.
Holly Dickson, staff laywer for the ACLU, says she spoke with police chief today and he promises to honor the 4th Amendment. We'll see, I guess. Relevant correspondence follows:
FROM PARAGOULD POLICE CHIEF TODD STOVALL:
Over the last several days, my comments regarding the Paragould Police Department’s efforts to combat crime and ensure public safety have been criticized. In light of these criticisms, clarification of police procedure is needed. I would also like to reassure the citizens of Paragould that the police department is committed to combating crime and ensuring public safety without violating citizens’ constitutional rights. These commitments always drive the policy and practice of the Paragould police department.
With specific regard to the current operations of the police department, the department has long had a proactive police philosophy dedicated to managing problems before they become unmanageable. Consistent with this philosophy and my earlier comments, the police department will soon make more officers available in the east side of town. These officers will be there to combat the increasingly high crime rate, which will result in greater public safety. Necessarily, the increase in officers will increase the number of police-citizen encounters; these encounters, however, will be done within the bounds of the Constitution.
As an example, when suspicious activity is afoot and there is reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity is happening, officers will make contact with the individuals involved to combat any potential criminal activity. In cases where there is probable cause to believe a crime has already occurred, officers will arrest those who committed the crime — there will be zero-tolerance for criminals. It is in these instances alone in which officers will ask an individual to identify him/herself. Please let me reassure all citizens, these actions, as well as any other action taken by Paragould police officers, will be taken with the Constitutional rights of all citizens in mind.
As always, this department will operate with the highest respect for the citizens of our community while ensuring their safety. As has always been the case, actions taken by officers that violate individuals’ constitutional rights will not be tolerated and will be dealt with accordingly.
LETTER FROM THE ACLU TO PARAGOULD
Re: Policing and the Constitution
Dear Chief Stovall:
The Arkansas Civil Liberties Union is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and defending the rights set forth in the Arkansas and United States Constitutions. We write today concerning comments of city officials relating to a potential plan of the Paragould Police Department to stop all persons in the city and demand identification from them, regardless of whether they are suspected of criminal activity. We have received numerous calls and concerns from citizens about these possible and proposed practices of the Department and write in an effort to obtain clarification as to the Department’s plans regarding policing.
As you are no doubt aware, both the United States and Arkansas Constitutions protect citizens against unlawful seizures, including detentions for a brief period. Investigatory stops are permitted when there is some objective manifestation that the person stopped is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal activity, and in that circumstance, the detaining officers must have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity. United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417 (1981)(citing Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. at 51 (1979)). No reasonable suspicion exists when a citizen’s conduct is typical of countless innocent people or when the citizen is perceived to be in a “high crime area.” United States v. Jones, 606 F.3d 964, 967 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing United States v. Davis, 2008 WL 4372705, 5 (S.D.Tex. Sept. 22, 2008)); Jordan v. Arkansas, 2004 WL 958100. A citizen’s refusal to answer questions of or cooperate with police does not provide a basis upon which to detain or seize that citizen, and certainly does not provided a basis for detention when there is no specific crime being investigated. INS v. Delgado, 466 U.S., 210, 216, 217; Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S., 481,498 (1983); Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. at 52, 53 (1979).
Statements issued by the Department indicate that remarks regarding stopping anyone and everyone (whether inside or outside a “high crime area”) may not actually be a policing plan that the City is planning or prepared to carry out. Indeed, it appears as if the Town Hall meeting remarks were preliminary thoughts, as opposed to any official plan, however, the public is concerned about what actually will occur in Paragould. As such, we ask that you please confirm whether the Department plans to move forward with policing that would involve stopping citizens on the street and demanding information about them absent some criminal investigation. Thank you for your time and consideration of this request, and please let us know if you have any other comments, questions, or concerns.
STOVALL'S RESPONSE TO DICKSON
Thank you for your inquiry about the concerns you have received from citizens. Below [above in this post] you will find a clarification letter that was released in reference to the public concerns. If you have any other questions please feel free to contact me.
Chief of Police