The Cop Block Tour Descends on Paragould, AR

copblock-tour-route-paragouldNote that the videos below are all raw (shot with my HTC Evo 5 via Cop Block’s Bambuser channel, my chest-mounted GoPro, and/or my Canon Vixia HF R10. At the conclusion of The Cop Block Tour I’ll make time to put-together some solid, over-arching videos using content from this stop. In the meantime, if you are so-compelled, you’re welcomed and encouraged to utilize this content and all other content at CopBlock.org.

On Thursday, Jan. 31st, 2012 I rolled into Paragould, a town of about 25,000 in northwest Arkansas that become more-known to many, myself included, after Todd Stovall, who wears a Paragould police department badge adorned with the word “chief” noted in mid-December, 2012, that he planned restrict the freedom of movement from those he saw on the streets and demand from their ID. His proposal was at the time supported by the “mayor” Mike Gaskill.

Stovall noted that his comrades would patrol the town with AR-15s slung around their necks. Talk about double-standards – if someone not wearing a badge were even seen open carry a .22 Stovall and his lackies would most-likely try to kidnap and cage them, as Arkansas is not an “open carry state.”

When determining the route of The Cop Block Tour, I knew I wanted to stop in Nashville and Kansas City, so it was only fitting that this stop in Paragould be included.

I was met by a few others who too took issue with the claims made by Stovall and Gaskill. After chatting a bit and getting on the same page, in terms of potential scenarios to expect, we drove and parked near the police department and entered, cameras rolling.

As you can see, Stovall just happened to be busy.

As we were unable to talk with Todd Stovall, if you’d like to try, feel free!:

Paragould Police Department
Todd Stovall
(870) 236-7621

BannerFreeKeene.com

The same was true for Gaskill. My instincts tell me that he was tipped-off about our pending visit (as the police department is in an attached building to city hall) hence the fact that he was “in the basement” when we arrived and the fact that we were later told, after waiting in the lobby, that he’d left the building.

Want to share some thoughts with Mike Gaskill? Let him know!

Paragould Town Hall
Mike Gaskill
(870) 239-7510

Real accountable, huh?

Really, the only person with a Paragould police badge that spoke with any sort of candor was this man, whom I believe to be Scott Sawyer:


Honestly, such a reaction by those who claim the right to exercise double-standards is welcomed. The fact that these individuals not only refused to talk with us but made themselves scarce proves to me that the eyes on this situation has caused them to back peddle.

As is noted in the post below, which was published to CopBlock.org on Dec. 17th, and originally posted at RT.com, the town hall meetings that were supposed to act as a forum for folks to share feedback on the martial law-type scenario proposed were canceled due to the massive influx of pushback received.

Would police officers in your area having the “guilty until proved innocent” mindset make you feel safer? Is a militarized police force in a small town of 25,000 really the most effective way to prevent real crimes – ie, ones with victims? -Kate

There isn’t a lot to do in Paragould, Arkansas, but residents of the town of barely 25,000 seem to have no problem finding trouble. Now in order to curb the rising crime rate, the city is proposing heavily armed police patrol the streets on foot.

At a town hall meeting on Thursday, Mayor Mike Gaskill and Police Chief Todd Stovall endorsed a plan to send cops dressed in full-fledged SWAT gear and equipped with AR-15s into downtown Paragould starting in 2013.

The militarized police force will be tasked with trying to control a crime rate that has made Paragould an increasingly dangerous place to live in recent years. According to statistics collected by city-data.com, Paragould has had a property crime index rating more than double the national average since 2007. Rapes, burglaries, thefts and assaults per capita are also well above the mean there, statistically suggesting Paragould is perhaps the least-safe among area cities.

“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,” Stovall said, according to the Paragould Daily Press. “It allows us to do what we’re fixing to do.”

In order to bring crime down, residents of Paragould may soon have to endure police officers brandishing semi-automatic assault riddles on the regular. What’s more, Stovall says, is he intends to have the cops collecting identification from everyone and anyone in an attempt to discourage criminal activity.

“If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, check for your ID,” the Daily Press reports him saying during last week’s meeting.

“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.”

“They may not be doing anything but walking their dog,” added Mayor Gaskill, “but they’re going to have to prove it.”

Soon after the Paragould Daily Press picked up the story, news of the small town’s efforts to enforce martial law began making headlines outside of Arkansas. On Sunday, Stovall authored an explanation on the Paragould Police Department website to clarify how exactly the proposed Street Crimes Unit will interact with citizens.

“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,” he says. During hours in which crime seems to be more prevalent, however, Chief Stovall says their 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.”

Stovall adds that the program would not violate the constitutional rights of Paragould citizens, claiming, “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.”

Paragould has scheduled two more town hall meetings to discuss the Street Crimes Unit.

Update: The town hall meetings were cancelled, “in the interest of public safety.” The claim is that with people who feel strongly on either side of the issue, a safe and productive meeting would not be the probable outcome.

We later took Swayer’s suggest and stopped by the Paragould Daily Press. Inside, we spoke with Zach Plair, who wasn’t able to share much new info, but did point to a Dec. 22nd, article he authored: PPD commits to street crimes unit in which it seems pretty clear that the unwelcomed reception to Stovall’s stepped-up gestapo tactics caused him and his cronies to not be so adamant in their “right” to usurp the rights of those who happen to live, work, or be passing through Paragould:

Paragould Police Department’s intent to increase patrols in the city’s high crime areas has not changed, according to Police Chief Todd Stovall.

But in response to criticism regarding comments city officials have made in reference to Paragould’s planned street crimes unit, Stovall issued a press release Friday that he said he hoped put to bed any misconceptions those comments may have generated.

Stovall announced the proposed creation of the street crimes unit at a pair of town hall meetings last week, offering those extra patrols as a way to reduce crime, particularly on the east side of town. During those meetings, as well as in a subsequent press release the department issued Sunday, Stovall said these officers would be wearing protective gear, making contact with citizens and at times, asking people to show identification. In some cases, city officials have said the officers could be armed with AR-15 assault rifles.

Parts of that plan fueled concern that police officers on the street crime units would violate the citizens’ constitutional rights by enforcing legal ramifications for people who were not suspected of criminal activity who did not produce identification upon an officer’s request. Stovall, however, said in Friday’s press release that would not be the case.

“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,” Stovall’s release said. “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 on 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.”

In the release, Stovall said when “suspicious activity was afoot” and officers had reasonable suspicion to believe a crime was in progress, officers would make contact with individuals involved. In cases where police had “probable cause” to believe a crime had occurred, he said officers would arrest any suspects.

“It is in these cases alone in which officers will ask an individual to identify him/herself,” the release said.

Stovall said in an interview with The Daily Press Friday that the officers on these extra patrols, which he intended to enact in January, would also make contact with residents in affected neighborhoods, doing such things as passing out business cards and even knocking on doors in an effort to “befriend” and build a rapport with the people in the community.

He added the extra patrols would begin with random officers, based on availability, but he hoped it evolved to being a unit with specific officers.

“We want the people in the community to know we’re here for them,” Stovall said. “I told people in the community meetings ‘We need you. You’re our eyes and ears.’ If it wasn’t for the people in the community, we wouldn’t solve half the problems we do.”

He said, though the police department would never be able to eliminate crime altogether, he believed this plan of “community-oriented policing” would drive down the crime rate in high crime areas. Though he said officer garb would clearly identify them as police, he didn’t believe that created an extra safety hazard for officers.

“I don’t think by making ourselves more visible, it makes us a bigger target,” Stovall said.

Mayor Mike Gaskill said he continued to support the idea for the street crimes unit.

“What we want people to know is that we’re not backing away from extra patrols and we are committed to combating crime,” he said. “But we are not going to violate anyone’s constitutional rights.”

Outside, Wayne, a solid guy and one of the three folks who joined me, shared some of his thoughts on the situation:

Later that night, after driving four hours to Springfield, MO, thanks to a tip and connection from a mutual friend in Missouri, I met with and interviewed Eric Vought, who founded Lawrence County Sheriff’s Auxiliary:

 

EPN

Pete Eyre

Pete Eyre is co-founder of CopBlock.org. As an advocate of peaceful, consensual interactions, he seeks to inject a message of complete liberty and self-government into the conversation of police accountability. Eyre went to undergrad and grad school for law enforcement, then spent time in DC as an intern at the Cato Institute, a Koch Fellow at the Drug Policy Alliance, Directer of Campus Outreach at the Institute for Humane Studies, Crasher-in-Chief at Bureaucrash, and as a contractor for the Future of Freedom Foundation. In 2009 he left the belly of the beast and hit the road with Motorhome Diaries and later co-founded Liberty On Tour. He spent time in New Hampshire home, and was involved with Free Keene, the Free State Project and The Daily Decrypt.