Planned police patrol stirs 'strong feelings' in Paragould

LITTLE ROCK -- The Paragould Police Department is trying to assuage public concern following statements by its chief that he will deploy police in SWAT gear and semiautomatic rifles on city streets to question residents and check identification.

No such unit is in place and "we're not declaring marshal law," a woman who answered the phone in Mayor Mike Gaskill's office said Monday. She said the mayor was on vacation this week and said a statement posted on the police department's website would answer any questions in his stead.

That statement, dated December 16, said, in part:

"The purpose of this unit is to increase police presence in high crime rate areas of the city....Once an area has been identified as a high crime neighborhood, the select group of officers will saturate the area in an attempt to curb the criminal behavior that is plaguing that particular neighborhood....During hours in which crime seems to be more prevalent (i.e. between the hours of 11pm and 5 am), our 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. The record keeping is two-fold: First, we want to try to keep from over-lapping making contact with the same people multiple times. Once we know where people live, or that they always walk in that particular neighborhood, then we'll not need to repeat that contact. We will not be harassing citizens. Secondly, by documenting those of the criminal element, we have a record of that contact and where/when it occurred. An example of where this will be helpful is if a crime (i.e. burglary, breaking or entering) is reported the next morning. We then have a list of "go-to" suspects to question regarding that incident or incidents."

Click here to read the entire statement.

Neither Gaskill nor Police Chief Todd Stovall returned calls to their offices seeking comment Monday.

The two announced at a town hall meeting last week that next year the city would deploy a new street crimes unit in certain areas in response to rising crime.

"If you're out walking, we're going to stop you, ask why you're out walking, check for your ID," Stovall said, according to a report in the Paragould Daily Press. "They may not be doing anything but walking their dog. But they're going to have to prove it."

Click here for more on this story from the Arkansas News Bureau.