City officials in Paragould, Arkansas, a town of 26,000, are recommending a plan that would enact martial law beginning in 2013.
The plan, purportedly a response to recent property and violent crimes, would send police into the streets with AR-15 rifles and authorize them to stop anyone in the street and demand to know what they are doing.
Mayor Mike Gaskill and Police Chief Todd Stovall announced in a town hall meeting last week that the program would begin in the new year:
"[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.”
... "We’re going to do it to everybody. ... They may not be doing anything but walking their dog but they’re going to have to prove it."
The mayor told local reporters that the city's crime statistics were high eno9ugh to justify the plan, which was cooked up without consulting the city's attorney.
According to a release from the police department, this is how the plan will work:
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. Officers will accomplish this in a variety of different methods. Officers will be working to identify residents in the affected area so that we can better serve our affected neighborhoods. 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. 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 department says it is not out to violate anybody's rights, just trying to prevent crime.
As Ronald Reagan once said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"