GREENSBORO — Police made about 20,000 traffic stops in 2019.
During those stops, officers searched about 800 of the cars — or their drivers — after obtaining permission from the vehicle's operator.
But some City Council members want to know if officers are fully explaining to motorists their rights regarding such searches — especially the right to refuse one.
That's why council asked city officials on Tuesday to evaluate a sampling of 2019 traffic stops that resulted in searches to determine whether officers obtained the proper consent.
Councilwoman Tammi Thurm said she brought the issue to the Greensboro Criminal Justice Advisory Commission, a watchdog group, after hearing from constituents that officers aren't telling motorists they have the right to refuse a search.
“We’re only doing half of what we should be doing,” Thurm said. “I’m not sure that’s good for the relationship between the community and the police.”
Under the current policy, which has been in use since 2015, officers have the right to ask a motorist to submit to a search of their person or vehicle. The exchange and consent must be recorded — either by the video cameras officers wear or the motorist's signature on a “consent to search” form.
Police Chief Brian James told council at a Tuesday work session that, as a further safeguard, officers are required to file a report after a person or vehicle is searched confirming that approval was given.
According to information compiled by the Greensboro Criminal Justice Advisory Commission, other North Carolina cities have varying degrees of the same policy.
Raleigh offers a consent form, but police aren't required to use it. Additionally, police must write a report when a search is requested.
Charlotte has no requirement for a consent form, but an officer must be able to explain the reason for a search and file a report.
Durham requires police to offer a consent form, but may search with verbal permission from the vehicle's operator.
Councilwoman Goldie Wells said that police must be sure they are complying with policy, otherwise “I don’t think we need to change anything about it.”
However, Councilwoman Sharon Hightower said she was concerned that the majority of people stopped for traffic violations are African Americans.
James said it is true that high-crime areas include more African-American neighborhoods. Of 44 homicides in 2019, 80 percent of the victims were African American.
City Manager David Parrish said he will coordinate the evaluation with police officials and the Greensboro Criminal Justice Advisory Commission to compile a report for City Council. Because a judge must approve the release of police video to commission members, the work could take weeks or months.
He said he will report to council on his progress in a month.