The Greensboro City Council, at a virtual work session on Tuesday, Aug. 11, by consensus agreed to require police officers to obtain written consent before conducting a search of a vehicle, residence, business or person.

The actual vote was to direct City Manager David Parrish to come back to the City Council with a policy for approval. The council by agreement doesn’t take formal votes at work sessions, except when the majority decides to do so.

The motion by Councilmember Tammi Thurm passed on a 6-to-3 vote with Mayor Nancy Vaughan and Councilmembers Thurm, Justin Outling, Nancy Hoffmann, Michelle Kennedy and Yvonne Johnson voting in favor. Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter, Sharon Hightower and Goldie Wells voted no, or actually in this case didn’t vote because those in favor were asked to raise their hands but those opposed were not, which is not unusual for the informal votes taken at work sessions, even virtual work sessions.

The City Council discussed the matter of consent searches for over an hour before voting.

A consent search occurs when a police officer does not have probable cause to search and asks permission. If police officers have probable cause they do not have to obtain permission before the search. Consent searches most often occur during a traffic stop and the driver of the vehicle can refuse to allow the vehicle to be searched. One of the issues the written consent form is supposed to help solve is that people say they didn’t know that they could refuse the request from the police officer.

Hightower said, “People are afraid if they say no they are going to get searched anyway because of probable cause.”

According to a report, when Durham implemented a written form, consent searches went down and probable cause searches went up.

Outling asked a number of questions about the burden requiring a written form would place on police officers. Parrish finally answered saying that the burden would be having another form to keep up with and having to get it out of the car and have someone sign it before the search.

Outling said, “I see that as being a reasonable thing and think that city staff can figure out how to do that in an efficient way.”

The meeting was chaired by Abuzuaiter with both Mayor Vaughan and Mayor Pro Tem Johnson participating.

Vaughan did leave the meeting briefly. She said her batteries were low and came back to the meeting by phone without visual participation.