A city cannot declare or impose martial law.
But the mayor and police chief of Paragould — a town of 26,000 in northeast Arkansas, approximately 88 miles northwest of Memphis, Tennessee — are doing it anyway. All in the name of fighting crime.
If their plan is actualized, Paragould residents could soon be asked to show their identification by police armed with AR-15 assault rifles, and answer questions as to why they’re out and about in their own town.
Liz Klimas reports for The Blaze, Dec. 18, 2012, that “The martial law [was] recommended by the mayor and police chief of Paragould, in response to recent property-related and violent crimes.”
The account in The Blaze’s source, the Paragould Daily Press, however, makes no mention of martial law. However, having police patrol streets stopping citizens to ask for their ID and why they’re out is to suspend their right of habeus corpus, which effectively means the imposition of martial law.
Ryan Salor reports for the Paragould Daily Press that Paragould mayor Mike Gaskill and police chief Todd Stovall said in a town hall meeting last week that the initiative to battle street crime would begin in 2013:
“[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.”
Stovall said while some people may be offended by the actions of his department, they should not be.
“We’re going to do it to everybody,” he said. “Criminals don’t like being talked to.” […]
“They may not be doing anything but walking their dog,” he said. “But they’re going to have to prove it.”
The Daily Press reported Stovall saying that the crime statistics in the city were high enough to justify such action by law enforcement. It noted that an attorney was not consulted by the mayor or police chief before the street crimes unit plan was proposed.
After the martial law recommendation was met with backlash from citizens believing it infringes upon their civil rights, the mayor is backing off a little, saying that the city just wanted to make sure a law enforcement presence was felt in some areas. The police department issued a statement clarifying the proposed actions of the street crimes unit. Here’s how they explain the unit working:
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.
Many citizens, through various media outlets, have expressed a concern about the police “violating rights” or “violating the Constitution”. We have to abide by the same rules, regulations, and laws that our citizens do. We are not out to violate anyone’s rights. 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.
More town hall meetings are being held in Paragould Tuesday and Thursday where residents can join in the discussion.
l to r: Mayor Mike Gaskill, Police Chief Todd Stovall, and Cpl. Brad Snyder
Wikipedia says Paragould’s racial makeup is 97.87% White, 1.33% Hispanic/Latino, 0.04% Black, 0.42% Native American, 0.22% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.56% from other races, and 0.86% from two or more races.
I looked up Paragould’s crime statistics on CityData.com. The city’s crime rates do not look to have drastically increased. In fact, compared to many U.S. cities, Paragould is downright pacific, with 0 murder for every year from 1999 to 2010.
Note also that a city government cannot declare martial law. Only an authority controlling military forces can do that, which means a state governor or the federal government. In other words, what Paragould’s mayor and police chief propose to do is against the Constitution and violates the constitutional rights of Paragould’s citizenry.