City Manager Tom Bonfield has changed his position on requiring written permission for traffic-stop consent searches by Durham police.
A revised version of his recommendations for addressing alleged police racial bias, posted Tuesday on the city manager’s website bit.ly/1m7PGo3, includes amending police general orders “to require written documentation of all consent searches.”
“Written permission” is not explicit in the revised wording, but that is what the revision means, Bonfield said. The policy, if endorsed by the City Council, takes effect Oct. 1. By that time, bilingual search-consent forms should be placed in all police vehicles.
The original recommendation, released Aug. 18, said the amended order should only “clarify preference for written or otherwise documented consent for warrantless search of vehicles.”
Lack of required written consent brought sharp criticism from a number of advocacy organizations, including the Durham People’s Alliance, Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice
Most City Council members and Mayor Bill Bell have also said they support written consent as a tool for reducing the marked racial disparity that police records show between white and black motorists who are searched at traffic stops.
“It appears that he’s made some adjustments to that (recommendation) that I feel comfortable with,” Bell said Tuesday afternoon.
The City Council will gets the revised recommendations at its work session at 1 p.m. Thursday in the City Hall Committee Room.
Some of the groups disappointed by Bonfield’s original position welcomed the change Tuesday.
• “It is our hope that this ‘written documentation’ is a written consent form signed by the citizen who has consented to a search of their vehicle,” the Durham People’s Alliance said in a statement from Secretary Charlie Reece.
“Durham People’s Alliance strongly believes that a written consent requirement for consensual vehicle searches must be a part of any plan to reduce the racial disparities in the traffic and drug enforcement practices of the Durham Police Department,” the statement continued.
• “We are very pleased that the manager is apparently moving to address our concerns more forthrightly,” the Durham Committee said in a written statement by First Vice President Omar Beasley.
“Although the manager was a bit slow in getting to these new positions, we believe he is to be commended for understanding the concerns of the Human Relations Commission, the Durham Committee and others in the community and responding in a desirable way,” the Committee said.
• “There has long been a stark difference in the way black and white motorists are treated during routine traffic stops, particularly in the area of consent searches,” wrote Ian Mance, an attorney with the Southern Coalition.
“Requiring the police to first obtain written authorization, on a form that notifies the motorist of their right to refuse, should result in a significant reduction in the number of innocent black motorists who are stopped each year and subjected to invasive vehicle searches,” Mance said.
Bonfield’s recommendations respond to 34 suggestions from the city’s Human Relations Commission, which concluded after six months of hearings that “racial bias and profiling are present” in police practices. He also responded to 10 recommendations from a self-examination by the Civilian Police Review Board, which is appointed by and reports to the city manager.