Local News

AG: Council had no authority to stop Fayetteville consent searches

Posted February 21, 2012 7:55 p.m. EST
Updated February 22, 2012 4:36 p.m. EST

— The state Attorney General's Office on Tuesday backed up Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine's assertion that the City Council overstepped its authority when it enacted a moratorium on police consent searches.

Fayetteville City Council voted 8-2 last month to put consent searches on hold for 120 days while a consultant investigates claims that the practice disproportionately targets black drivers.

Bergamine and the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association decried the council's decision, saying it was unlawful and that consent searches are an important law enforcement tool.

In a letter from Senior Deputy Attorney General James J. Coman to Bergamine Tuesday, the state sided with law enforcement.

"The resolution that was adopted by the council exceeds the authority to prohibit lawful law enforcement activities," the letter states.

Consent searches, which allow police officers to ask a driver's permission to search a vehicle without establishing probable cause, are legal under North Carolina law. Therefore, Special Deputy Attorney General John J. Aldridge wrote in a separate letter to Bergamine Tuesday, the city had no right to enact an ordinance against them.

"A municipal corporation's regulations, bylaws and ordinances must be in harmony with the general laws of the State," the letter states. "In the case of a conflict between the two, the local regulation must yield to state law."