Fayetteville leaders could halt police search practice
Posted January 23, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The Fayetteville City Council could vote Monday night to put a temporary freeze on a type of police search that has drawn criticism as disproportionately focusing on black residents.
The resolution would halt, for 120 days, so-called consent searches, in which police can ask drivers for permission to search a vehicle based on nothing more than a hunch.
If the council votes to approve the moratorium, it would begin on Feb. 1.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Arp says he supports the police but wants time for a $30,000 independent review of the practice.
"We're certainly not saying to ban it," Arp said. "I'm in favor of consent searches. I think they're a good tool, but I don't think they're the only tool in the toolbox."
An analysis of traffic stops over the past two years by The Fayetteville Observer showed that black drivers accounted for three out of every four searches.
The numbers have drawn concern of racial profiling from groups, such as the NAACP, which called on city leaders Monday afternoon to approve the moratorium.
"This is a vital first step in an attempt to restore the public's confidence in the police force," state NAACP President Rev. William Barber said in a statement, adding that "this type of extreme racial bias needs to be corrected immediately."
Fayetteville police Chief Tom Bergamine, however, has defended the practice as a useful law enforcement tool and has said the searches aren't racially motivated.
Because of questions surrounding the legality of a moratorium, City Council members were expected to meet with the city attorney prior to Monday's meeting.
A report to the city from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government said the Council has the authority to put consent searches on hold.
The North Carolina Police Benevolent Association says police are given power to do consent searches in a state statute and that city leaders do not have the power to override state law.
At least one City Council member, Valencia Applewhite, worries that temporarily stopping the searches could open the city up to lawsuits and could affect the police department's accreditation.
She said that she planned to vote against the moratorium.
Councilman Keith Bates also said he planned to vote against it, although he is in favor of the independent review.
In October, the City Council voted 7-3 against a proposal that would have required police to get written consent before searching a vehicle.
It did, however, review the search guidelines and clarified for police that there must be at least one clear factor of suspicion to warrant a consent search. The council also said that all consent searches must also be documented and that officers must record their interactions with drivers during the searches.