Fayetteville, N.C. — Allegations of racial profiling by Fayetteville police have prompted city officials to look at forming a public board to review complaints against officers.
Fayetteville officials said they would use practices in place in Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte and other cities to develop the Citizen Complaint Review Board, which they called an important step to improving credibility with the community.
The move follows a long-running dispute over the practice of consent searches, in which police search vehicles during traffic stops after getting approval from the drivers. Some groups raised concerns that police might be illegally profiling black drivers.
The Fayetteville City Council voted in January to halt consent searches, but a police advocacy group sued, citing a state Attorney General's Office opinion that consent searches are a legal law enforcement tool. A Superior Court judge ordered in March that the city allow the police department to resume the practice.
The city called in the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives to review the police department's policies and procedures, and the group said that, while blacks are disproportionately subjected to traffic stops and warrantless searches in Fayetteville, there was no evidence of profiling.
NOBLE recommended creating an outside review board to show that investigations are handled fairly and that officers' actions are measured against established policies and rules.
As part of the creation of the board, state lawmakers drafted legislation to release some information in officers' personnel files to board members. Senate Bill 939 passed the Committee on State and Local Government on Thursday and will likely be voted on next week by the full Senate.
John Midgette, executive director of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, said opening up officers' personnel files could put them at risk.
"Any other officer arresting somebody, the person arrested would have access to personnel records. That is not good legislation. That is not good law," Midgette said.
Mayor Tony Chavonne said the bill would allow only members of the review board to access personnel information.
"The only thing that anyone would be able to see would be pertinent to that particular charge made by the citizen," Chavonne said. "The only thing anyone would look at was what the citizen said, what the officer said and what was on the (dashboard camera) video in that particular incident."
The police department backs the creation of the review board, city officials said.
Meanwhile, Midgette said the PBA would ask the U.S. Department of Justice next week to investigate what it sees as a conspiracy to tarnish the credibility of the Fayetteville Police Department.
He cited the case of a driver who accused an officer of using a racial slur during a recent traffic stop. The dash-cam video of the stop doesn't support the driver's claim, and Midgette said the man should be charged with filing a false report.
"All of this anti-police retaliation cannot be done by a single person. Persons are acting together to deprive officers of their civil liberties," he said. "Police enjoy constitutional protection from these attacks."