Arrest near school sparks debate over rights, safety

Policing expert explains what rights people have in public places

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - A viral video of police arresting a man who was taking video near Franklin County High School has started a conversation on social media about where our rights can give way to safety concerns.

A Troutville man was not breaking the law Jan. 11 by taking the video on a sidewalk, but police arrested him when he didn’t identify himself upon request. Rocky Mount police said they've received threats after making the arrest.

Retired Roanoke police Capt. Rick Morrison said that, when officers are investigating, they can ask people for basic information, like their name, date of birth and address. He said the law allows police to get that kind of information and detain people if they don’t comply, even if police don’t see the person breaking the law.

"If there's suspicious activity taking place in or around schools, part of our job and our duties is to engage with that person and confirm or not if that behavior is either endangering a student or the school or not," he said.

If there's no ongoing investigation, then people can refuse to speak to police.

"It's called a consensual encounter if there's no criminal activity going on, but we just want to come up and engage in a conversation with you," he said.

But once there's "reasonable suspicion," the circumstances change if people aren't cooperative.

"I can then detain you temporarily and ask you some basic questions to further dispel or confirm my suspicions," he said.

Morrison said police departments often treat schools and crowded public areas differently than an average city street.

"When it comes to children, we're extra safe and extra cautious," he said. "We don't wait for a crime to occur (and) then react to a crime. We're all about prevention."

Many people spoke passionately both in favor of and against the arrest on social media and Monday to 10 News. Some think police should have left the man alone.

"I reckon people have the right to do anything they want to," Rocky Mount resident Danny Lynch said.

Others said police should question people under any suspicious circumstances near places like schools.

"I think the parents have a right to be upset. There are a lot of nuts out here and why was he taking pictures of the kids? Why didn't he give his name?" said Georgianna Rogers, who has grandchildren who attend school.

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