Councilwoman’s speed exceeded police department’s safe harbor zone

by Jordan Green

A section of standard operating procedure for “allowable speed tolerance” released by the Greensboro Police Department indicates that Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small’s reported speed was well in excess of the grace zone permitted by department guidelines.

Officer MJ Calvert caught Bellamy-Small driving 50 mph in a 35 mph zone on Lee Street at about 11:15 p.m. on Feb. 6, according to a set of e-mails and text messages released by the city. The violation was detected by pacing, a method in which the officer drives alongside the offender to determine her speed.

In a text message exchange with a fellow officer shortly after the incident, Calvert indicated that Bellamy-Small’s status as an elected official influenced him to give her special consideration. “Councilwoman… I just pulled her over… not good,” he wrote, adding: “I think I better let her off on this one.”

In a report that went up the chain of command all the way to City Manager Mitchell Johnson, Calvert said Bellamy-Small told him she was coming from a city council meeting, asked for one of his business cards and told him she planned to call interim Chief Tim Bellamy in the morning to discuss the incident.

Bellamy-Small did not respond to a set of questions faxed to her by YES! Weekly last week. She disputed the claim that she was speeding in a Feb. 22 interview on WQMG 97.1 FM with on-air personality Busta Brown, adding, “I said, ‘If I was speeding, give me a ticket.’ He said, ‘I’m going to give you a verbal warning.'”

In the interview Bellamy-Small acknowledged that she told Officer Calvert that she was coming from a council meeting, but denied that the statement was meant to imply that she should receive favorable treatment.

Standard operating procedure grants discretion to officers in handling traffic violations, but Bellamy-Small’s alleged 15-mph excess above the posted speed placed her well beyond the threshold specified in department guidelines.

“For speeding violations detected through the use of a calibrated vehicle speedometer to clock the speed of a suspect, a standard speed tolerance of nine miles per hour may be permitted,” reads a standard operating procedure for “allowable speed tolerance” implemented on Sept. 1, 2001.

Capt. Anita Holder, commander of the department’s division of information and technology, said in an e-mail that the department’s tolerance for violating the speed limit should not be read as a green light to flout traffic regulations.

“This policy should not be interpreted as the police department’s tacit approval to violate speed limits,” she said. “That is absolutely not the case. While officers are legally allowed to cite for violations of even one mile per hour over the speed limit, we prefer a more tolerant approach.”

Holder said that because she was not familiar with the circumstances of the traffic incident she could not say whether Calvert was justified in opting to not charge Bellamy-Small with a traffic violation.

She said police officers may choose at their discretion whether to issue a citation or give only a verbal warning. She noted that officers have a wider latitude when handling minor traffic violations than when dealing with felonious activity, in which case discretion is extremely limited.

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