"Study circles" a safe space to make progress on tough issues
Fayetteville City Council approves new police search policy
October 11, 2011
The Fayetteville Observer
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Fayetteville police will no longer conduct consent searches based on hunches that can't be explained, the City Council said Monday night.
The council voted 10-0 to approve a policy that will require police officers to write down at least one "reasonable factor" that a crime might have occurred when seeking permission to search vehicles, drivers and other occupants.
The drivers and occupants will continue to have the right to tell police "no" in such situations.
Three council members - Robert Massey, D.J. Haire and Kady-Ann Davy - thought the policy change didn't go far enough in protecting the rights of drivers and voted for consent forms.
They wanted to require police to obtain written permission from the drivers with consent forms.
Mayor Tony Chavonne and the other six council members - Ted Mohn, Jim Arp, Bobby Hurst, Val Applewhite, Keith Bates and Bill Crisp - voted against the use of consent forms, defeating the proposal.
Police discontinued consent forms for vehicle searches in 1999 after encountering problems with them in court. About that same time, police switched to state traffic forms for compiling data. The state forms replaced the old consent forms, police have said.
The council adopted a few other related initiatives Monday.
Police will have to begin tracking the addresses and times of consent searches, and the city will buy 63 more in-car camera systems and hold a series of community meetings on the broader issue of law enforcement and community policing.
Police Chief Tom Bergamine said the new policies for documenting the reasons for the searches and tracking them would be ready by January, after all of the officers are trained.
It will take about three months to buy and install the camera systems, he said, which cost $6,000 apiece.
About 120 police cars already have camera systems, which record the conversations between officers and drivers.
In Fayetteville, three times as many blacks as whites are stopped and searched by police, according to statistics.
That racial disparity has alarmed some residents, who worry that some black drivers are being needlessly detained.
The policy changes, cameras and community meetings were in response to those community concerns, city officials said.
Members of the Fayetteville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Fayetteville Area Minority Lawyers Association have sought police reforms, including the use of consent forms.
Bergamine, who has denied that his force has been guilty of racial profiling, defends the use of consent searches. He said those type of searches have led to arrests and the seizure of illegal weapons and drugs.
Bergamine proposed the policy changes Oct. 3 as a compromise.
"We'll be fine," he told a group of reporters afterward. "We've got no problems with this."
The issue of whether to use consent forms has divided the council and some members of the community.
James Popp, who coordinates the Kornbow Community Watch off Johnson Street and Bragg Boulevard, didn't want to see the police hampered, he said.
"We are fighting to keep our neighborhoods a safe place to live, and the only ally we have in that fight is the Fayetteville Police Department," he told the council Monday.
The community meetings will be modeled after a "study circles" program the city used between 1999-2002 that led to a series of policy recommendations for the Police Department. Details about the meetings will be announced later.
Councilman Val Applewhite said she hopes the community meetings help reduce negative perceptions of the police force.
"People don't like to talk about race," she said, "and this is a safe place to do that and have some real progress on the issues."
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