Residents accuse law enforcement of ‘aggressive policing’

Daniel Bereznicki/McDonald County Press Residents packed into city hall to voice their concerns regarding the city's law enforcement.

SOUTHWEST CITY -- Residents packed into city hall in Southwest City on Tuesday to express their concerns about law enforcement, and Mayor David Blake, speaking on behalf of the city, assured residents they would have the opportunity to speak on what they felt were "aggressive" police actions in the city.

Some of the grievances residents were leveling against the department included issuing citations for what they felt were minor infractions, such as issuing citations for foreign driver's licenses, failing to dim headlights, failing to make complete stops at stop signs, or remaining in a single lane.

One resident said, "People are scared to drive up and shop because they're scared that they're gonna get stopped for no reason."

Another added, "Why do we need multiple officers at one stop? Why do we need three officers patrolling at the same time?"

"Was there a time when the shifts overlapped?" Blake asked.

He posed this question because it's common for multiple officers to patrol during a shift change.

He also asked, "Do you have a particular time or date when this occurred?"

"I think it was Friday night," said the resident.

Residents also claim officers write citations to individuals with foreign driver's licenses.

One resident said, "You take a U.S. driver's license to Mexico and it works. I don't know why (Mexican driver's licenses) don't work here."

"It works here as long as you got insurance," Blake answered.

Police Chief Bud Gow explained, "We will accept an out-of-country driver's license if you have a real passport. My attorney said, 'Once you've been here over 30 days, you establish residency and that no longer applies.'"

Some residents have claimed they heard from others that they are afraid to travel within the city for fear they'll be written a ticket for minor accidental offenses such as speeding or failing to stay within a single lane. They claim the officers are "aggressive" in their actions, whether issuing citations or pulling people over.

Another resident accused officers of intimidation.

"They've been intimidating people. Then, they really pull them over and profile them, telling them, 'If I see you driving this car again, even though I know you don't have your driver's license and it's expired today, I'm still getting it towed.'"

The persons who reportedly experienced this incident were absent during the hearing and did not speak on the matter.

One resident, speaking of his own experience, accused Police Chief Bud Gow of lying to him with regard to comments he made regarding towing vehicles.

He said he personally spoke to Gow about the policies for towing vehicles. Gow presented him with a list of items for which the (department) would tow and assured him he would not tow a vehicle if someone would arrange to have the vehicle picked up.

"But those officers, in my opinion, went straight out in two days and violated what Bud had put in place while he assured me that was the policy."

He said the car was towed, and it would have cost the owner of the car $1,000, but he added Gow returned the check to the owner.

The owner of the car was not present during the meeting.

One resident, a school teacher for 26 years, claimed this "intimidation" has affected school students, causing them to walk home from school because some parents are afraid they'll run into officers.

"And we're talking about kindergarteners, first graders, second graders. So, that is a hazard," said the teacher.

Students and parents were not present during the meeting. None of the attendees spoke up on the matter or confirmed these accusations.

McDonald County School Board president Frank Woods was present at the meeting and spoke on the matter.

He said he appreciated officers but had his concerns, saying, "I don't want anyone breaking the law, including my family. But I don't want to be afraid for him not to be able to come back into this town because if he rolls past the stop sign five feet, if he doesn't dim the lights in time or doesn't put a turn signal on within 100 feet, and he gets stopped and gets a ticket, he's in trouble -- big trouble. And that's a fear. That's fear for me. Because of how aggressive these guys are."

He spoke about an experience he heard from his sister, who commented on what she heard about people's perception of the police.

"My sister tells me in my office, I don't speed. I'm afraid to come into town. This is Nancy," said Woods. "She has a driver's license. She has insurance, everything works on her truck, and she's afraid to come into town. She dreads to come into town because of the perception."

Woods' sister, Nancy, was not present at the meeting.

Another resident said she knew some people from Jay, Okla., who would rather travel to Siloam Springs instead of "Dave's Supermarket" in Southwest City because they were afraid of getting tickets from the police.

Those individuals were not present during the meeting.

Another resident said, "I believe that (police officers are) doing good things. But I believe what is happening is that, as a town, our businesses are going to suffer because of what they are doing. That's not good."

She added, "I personally have had two complaints, saying that some of their friends cannot come up here because they keep getting pulled over. I'm assuming they do have their driver's licenses, but they still keep getting harassed."

The two individuals who submitted these complaints were not present during the meeting.

Residents have urged the city to allow "mercy" for minor offenses.

One resident offered her own experience. She said she once came to a four-way stop, and a police car failed to stop when passing through the four-way stop.

"He drove through that stop sign. I gave him mercy. I waited. I didn't honk. I didn't do that and let him go on. People make mistakes, even (police officers) do, but I gave him that mercy. I would like to see the other people in this community have a little mercy, too."

Present at the meeting was Pineville city prosecutor Sherrie Hansen, who wanted to comment on how her offices process citations.

"I do want you to know that when your officers write tickets, those tickets are not what goes into the court, and suddenly you're charged," said Hansen. "Everything filters through me. Until I get those tickets -- and I treat each ticket as though I have to take this thing to trial. I have to be able to prove this ticket to a judge beyond a reasonable doubt."

She asked, "Ponder this: What violations would you have your officers ignore? ... Where do we draw the line?"

She said she doesn't disagree with residents and "there are a lot of tickets issued" but asserted that officers should not be lax in their efforts because the repercussions could have a worse impact on residents.

As the public hearing came to a close, Blake thanked residents on behalf of the city for bringing their concerns forward.

"All we can do is work together and resolve the problem. I really appreciate you being here."

Present at this meeting were Mayor Blake, Alderman Steven Golden Sr., Alderman Gloria Armstrong, Alderman George Snow, Alderman Ridge Carpenter, Police Chief Bud Gow and City Clerk Jenifer Anderson.

Other News

Since the last meeting, the police department has written 28 citations -- one for equipment violation, three for speeding, five for no insurance, eight for no valid driver's license, three for failing to register a vehicle, and three for failing to drive in a single lane. The department also wrote one for driving while intoxicated, one for trespassing, and three for no vehicle licenses. It issued 14 warnings and made four arrests.

The fire department responded to two medical calls, one structure fire, one tree down, one baler fire, one motor vehicle accident, and one mutual aid grass fire.

The city paid the bills in the amount of $4,812.86.

  photo  Daniel Bereznicki/McDonald County Press Mayor David Blake opened the floor for the public hearing by saying, "Believe me, we are concerned and want to hear anything we can do to improve our city." He asked, "If it pertains to a certain incident, we would like to know the incident date because our officers are equipped with dash cams." Residents were allowed to list their grievances against the citys police department.