Fayetteville approves freeze on police search practice
Posted January 23, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Fayetteville leaders on Monday night approved a temporary freeze on so-called police consent searches, which have drawn criticism by some who believe the method to be racially biased.
The moratorium will be in place for 120 days or until a consulting group reports its findings to the City Council about the practice, in which police can ask drivers for permission to search a vehicle based on nothing more than a hunch.
Monday night's 8-2 vote came amid two differing legal opinions about whether the city has the authority to put consent searches on hold.
The North Carolina Police Benevolent Association addressed the council at Monday's meeting, urging them to vote against the moratorium and arguing that it violates state and federal law.
"You are setting a precedent that a local government can set aside or supercede state and federal law," said John Midgette, the group's executive director. "Our courts have long held that that can't be done."
Mayor Tony Chavonne said it was time for the city to consider a policy change.
"When an issue continues to grow and divide our community, and it remains unaddressed by staff, as this one has for over a year now, then the council does have the final responsibility to step in," Chavonne said.
He added that he didn't mind the city being a "legal test case," as long as it's "a legal test case for what's right."
City Council members Valencia Applewhite and Keith Bates voted against the measure.
"I am not convinced that we are not in violation of state statute," Applewhite said.
The decision comes after 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.
Those numbers have drawn concern of racial profiling from groups such as the NAACP, but Fayetteville's police chief has defended the practice as a useful law enforcement tool and has said the searches aren't racially motivated.
The consultant, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, will be paid $30,000 for its review, which could be complete within 60-75 days.