Moratorium on Consent Searches Won in Fayetteville: Police Chief Resigns Amid Controversy



Pressure from legal and civil rights organizations about the racial profiling of black motorists in Fayetteville, N.C. led the Fayetteville City Council on Tuesday to informally vote to approve a temporary moratorium on consent searches.

During the four-month moratorium, the police department’s policies on searches, data collection and citizen complaints will be reviewed by an outside party, the Fayetteville Observer reported Wednesday.

In addition, Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine an ardent defender of consent searches said City Council’s 9-1 vote “reaffirms” his decision, announced last weekend, to retire.

Consent searches occur when police ask motorists pulled over for traffic infractions if they can search their vehicle, and motorists grant them permission. Although it’s not clear that officers make it clear that motorists have the right to refuse these searches.

It has been well established that consent searches, which do not require a warrant or probable cause that a crime has been committed, create opportunities for officers to make racially biased judgments about which vehicle to search. And people of color have been shown to be disproportionately subjected to consent searches, leading to a disproportionate number being arrested and serving prison time, when contraband is found.

In 1999, an ACLU class action lawsuit filed against California Highway Patrol in 1999 revealed that black and Latino motorists were 2-3 times more likely to be stopped and searched as whites, according to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Following the lawsuit, CHP entered into a consent decree that required a three-year moratorium on consent searches and data collection.

In California as in Fayetteville, only a small percentage of motorists were found to have drugs yet thousands suffered the humiliation and invasiveness of a discriminatory search.

In Fayetteville, police statistics from the past few years show that some 75 percent of all drivers who are searched are black, which is highly disproportionate to their numbers in the city. Fayetteville’s black residents comprise less than half the city’s population but 58 percent of those that are stopped are black.

This vote for a moratorium follows pressure from The Fayetteville Area Minority Lawyers Association and the local NAACP that have been fighting to get racial profiling addressed in that city.

--By Keith Rushing