Fayetteville council approves traffic search policy

October 9, 2011 9:00:00 PM PDT
The Fayetteville City Council approved a new policy Monday evening for traffic stop searches, and the mayor says there's a lot of compromise in the new plan. However, a lot of people remain unhappy.

The NAACP thinks the new search policy doesn't go far enough.

"I'm afraid the next thing we hear is going to be a lawsuit coming against the city," said James Buxton, NAACP.

Fayetteville police Chief Tom Bergamine worries the policy goes too far.

"Hopefully, it will make a difference with some," Bergamine said. "Some folks will probably believe just what they want to believe, and we have to move on."

At issue is when and how a police officer can ask a motorist for consent to search a vehicle. The police department's own numbers show that in the past, three times as many African American drivers have been stopped and searched as white drivers.

At a community forum in March, many residents feared racial profiling and felt a consent form would protect drivers.

Council members approved a five-point plan that documents search reasons, tracks location and time of stops and searches, puts video cameras in police cars and establishes public meetings for citizens to provide input.

While the new policy doesn't mandate written consent forms, officers will have to list at least one reasonable factor in asking a driver for consent to search. That factor can be anything from a driver's criminal background to a motorist's behavior in the officer's presence.

Chief Bergamine and the city manager say installing video cameras in all cars and training officers on the new policy and procedures could take three months or longer.

In the meantime, Bergamine says officers will continue noting their reason for a consent search and traffic tickets they give to motorists. Residents say they will continue to be wary of the officers' judgment.

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