GREENSBORO, N.C. — On Tuesday, Greensboro City Council members will consider changes to the Police Department's consent search policy.
If approved, the policy would require requesting officers to tell the person they're trying to search that they can refuse or withdraw consent. Additionally, it would require officers to get that consent in written form. If English is not the preferred language of the person agreeing to the search - then a Consent to Search form in their language would be provided.
Supporters say the changes add transparency, while critics argue the city council shouldn't dictate how police officers conduct these searches - especially given the policy already in place.
The current consent search policy states that, in encounters where Consent to Search is requested, "each officer must articulate the reason for the request and or if Probable Cause to search exists." If that consent is granted or denied, it will be documented on the officer's body-worn camera. During encounters where a BWC is not available, then a Consent to Search form must be completed.
You can read more about consent searches, and other GPD policies in the Greensboro Police Departmental Directive document by clicking here.
Greensboro's Criminal Justice Advisory Commission took a look at this current policy on consent searches. The group determined the policy was very comprehensive and transparent, but they offered a few new ideas to the city council.
The Commission suggested officers inform the person they want to search, that they have a right to refuse or withdraw consent, and they suggested officers secure that permission with a 'Consent to Search' form, in addition to documenting the request on their body-worn camera.
City Councilmember Tammi Thurm originally brought the idea to the table, after hearing from constituents in her district last fall.
"I think it's really important that our residents have a full understanding of what their rights are, and I think just having a written consent policy just clears that up," she told WFMY News 2 on Friday.
However, not everyone is in favor of these policy changes. The Greensboro Police Officers Association is adamantly opposed to the revision.
"They hate it," said Amiel Rossabi, a lawyer for the GPOA, "They not only hate this policy, but they hate this policy for how it affects how they can do their job and for what it means for the city."
Rossabi says they've been working with Police Chief Brian James, on several reforms, but making changes to consent searches does not make that list.
"This is not the thing that is going to help," he said, "This is a misguided and politically motivated attempt by some of the council members to act like they are caring for a certain community, when in fact, they are ignoring realities of policing."
Rossabi says there's a safety concern - because officers normally go out on patrol alone.
"They are not working in pairs. They are absolutely alone," he said, "A lot of these searches are occurring at night or in the wee hours of the morning. So consider the officer goes to the car with a flashlight in one hand and a pen and paper in the other hand… Well, where is the officer's weapon? And how can the officer get to his or her weapon if something goes down?"
Should the city council approve the policy change, Rossabi says the policy dispute won't be over.
"If it is enacted, we will take whatever steps we can take, as the GPOA, to challenge the actions of the city."
Read more about the policy changes by clicking here.