Fayetteville to halt police searches

January 24, 2012 4:15:06 AM PST
The Fayetteville City Council voted to temporarily halt consent searches by police officers at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday.

City Manager Dale Iman outlined a four-point moratorium proposal that included bringing in outside consultants to review traffic stops, police searches, and having citizen input on any changes.

Fayetteville city council approved the moratorium on police consent searches by an 8 to 2 vote.

The mayor called the vote "momentous."

"We are all accountable to someone and that includes the police dept. and includes this city council," said Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne.

The vote placed the moratorium for 120 days or enough time for an independent review of the practice.

In a consent search, police can ask drivers for permission to search a vehicle based on nothing more than a hunch.

The practice has come under fire by critics as being racially motivated.

The Fayetteville Police Department first drew criticism late last year when it was revealed statistics show 75 percent of all drivers stopped and searched are African-American. Police Chief Tom Bergamine - who is retiring June 30 - has denied his officers are involved in racial profiling - instead saying most of the stops were in high population and high crime areas.

Bergamine defended the practice as a useful law enforcement tool - saying it's been effective for seizing illegal weapons and drugs.

As some attendees questioned the legality of the council's decision, Bergamine warned of possible dire consequences.

"If it was deemed unlawful by the courts of law, I would lose my certification and any officers who obey that order would probably lose theirs," said Bergamine.

The Executive Director of the Police Benevolent Association vowed to keep fighting the council's decision.

"I think this is a question before the district attorney, the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney," said John Midgette.

The moratorium could begin as early as Tuesday, as that is when the city manager said the consultants will begin to sift through files and review policy.

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