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Greensboro City Council vote on written consent search policy fails; leaders pass substitute motion requiring 'standardized language' for GPD officers

The city council passed a policy change that would require GPD officers who are requesting a consent search to inform the person they can refuse or withdraw consent.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Although the City Council passed changes to the Greensboro Police Department's consent search policy, they did not approve the requirement for requesting officers to get written consent before conducting this type of search. 

On Tuesday, the council spoke at length about the consent policy, before ultimately failing to pass the motion. However, Mayor Nancy Vaughan introduced a substitute motion, calling it "informed documented consent." It passed, 5 to 4.

Just like in current GPD policy, the interaction between an officer and the person he or she is hoping to search, will be documented on the officer's body-worn camera. But now, there are additional things required for the officer to do during that exchange.

Mayor Vaughan and Assistant City Manager Trey Davis explained that in addition to standardizing the language used by an officer, there are three elements that will be required during every consent search interaction. 

First, the officer must express that it is a voluntary encounter. Second, the officer must inform the person of their right to refuse the search. Third, the officer must let the person understand they do have a right to withdraw that consent at any time. If that happens, the search would end immediately. 

Councilmembers Thurm, Kennedy, Outling, and Johnson voted against the informed documented consent. All four voted in favor of the original motion - which failed. 

"To me, this is almost perfectly identical to the existing policy," explained Outling, "I don't see a utility in this, whereas I saw a perspective utility with written consent."

Police Chief Brian James explained that he can quickly put the policy changes into place.

"I could put it in policy this week," he said, "And officers would immediately be held to that requirement - that they have to say those three things."

Part of the change would also require the body-worn camera footage be kept as a record by the department for three years. Council agreed to revisit the policy with the Chief in the coming weeks, and review consent search data after the change is implemented.