Every so often, some cop comes up with a boneheaded idea that is destined to make the lot of us look like would-be tyrants on a power trip. I would like to think that, in most cases, this is done with the best of intentions — despite poor judgment. What troubles me more than boneheaded moves is when a police officer decides to go and write his own version of constitutional law. This is made even worse when the officer is a top administrator.
In the Northeast Arkansas town of Paragould, Police Chief Todd Stovall has found his community plagued with a higher than usual crime rate; at least statistically speaking. It seems that crime in Paragould is higher than the national average and Stovall claims his citizens are scared. Stovall’s answer is to start a new street crimes unit, one that will patrol the streets of this community of 26,000 on foot, in SWAT gear, and bearing AR-15 assault rifles slung around their necks. According to Stovall, this unit will confront anyone out walking and make them identify themselves. Sounds scary right? That’s because for most Americans, having a SWAT team lurking in the neighborhood, poised to make you identify yourself on a Sunday evening stroll, is downright frightful!
Stovall takes things a step further. He says this team will not only get out and identify anyone out walking but if someone comply with the request for identification, they could be arrested for ‘obstructing government operations.’ This is a charge that is commonly used in Arkansas against anyone who refuses to identify him/her self or misidentifies themselves when legally ordered to provide identification. In order to be a legitimate investigation, however, there has to be at least reasonable suspicion present to even justify the temporary seizure of a persons liberty. Stovall claims that the fact his town’s crime rate is high is reasonable suspicion enough.