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Interium Greensboro police chief discusses public relations crisis

by Jordan Green

Greensboro’s interim police chief fielded questions from the Triad’s spinners and ferreters during a May 9 luncheon address at the UNCG Alumni House headlined, ‘“Keeping Credibility During Times of Crisis.’”As awkward fellow travelers who traffic in the same commodity of information, albeit for different purposes, the reporters were the grateful guests of a group of Triad-area public relations professionals, drinking iced tea and dining on lunch meat and potato salad at the invitation of the Public Relations Society of America’s Tar Heel Chapter.After an introduction by Rick Hodson, the chapter president and a communications specialist at Lorillard Tobacco Co., interim chief Tim Bellamy stepped to the podium. Responding to questions from the public relations professionals, he suggested the department has no master plan in place to perform damage control. Far from molding public perceptions, he suggested it’s all the command staff can do to keep pace with the new developments. Bellamy came across as straightforward, honest and good humored, but stopped short of discussing any of the findings of the department’s ongoing investigation into abuses under his predecessor, David Wray. He maneuvered around any discussion of confidential personnel issues. The interim chief told the public relations professionals that supervisors on the police force already get media and community relations training, and the department hasn’t really initiated any changes in that regard since the scandal broke. Reporters raised more sensitive questions.When asked if he sensed there was a group of white police officers who might resent his leadership as a black police chief, Bellamy took a deep breath and smiled.’“There may be one or two people,’” Bellamy said. ‘“Most of the officers, white and black, male and female, have expressed to me that they’re glad I’m there. That’s true for the community. The only reason I was put in the position is I was the senior person on the command staff.’”Without prompting he discussed the revelations of the previous administration’s practice of recording conversations with community leaders.’“Three weeks ago we found some disturbing information that citizens had been secretly recorded,’” Bellamy said. ‘“I said to myself, ‘It can’t possibly get any worse than this.””The interim chief said the department has always recorded conversations with suspects in the course of criminal investigations, and while it’s not against the law to secretly record ordinary citizens he doesn’t believe it’s appropriate. He added that the department has no written policy on when it’s appropriate to record people.Bellamy said the recordings were made over the past two to three years, and targeted 12 individuals.On the matter of the leaked confidential city-commissioned report that was produced by Risk Management Associates and ended up in the possession of the News & Record, Bellamy suggested he’s less concerned than the mayor and members of the Greensboro City Council. ‘“I have a job to enforce the law; they have a job to report the news,’” he said. ‘“It hasn’t hampered our ability to investigate the case.’”Bellamy said the police department is not committing any resources toward determining which city staff member or city council member might have participated in the leak.’“There is some misdemeanor violation there,’” he said. ‘“The city manager is investigating that. We’re not handling that.’”The interim chief said the string of revelations has not significantly damaged either community trust or morale within the department.’“My number-one priority is to respond to citizens’ calls for services,’” he said. ‘“No matter what happens, no matter what comes out in the newspaper ‘— that’s our job. Thus far the citizens I’ve been in contact with have said there’s been no loss in services.’”Bellamy said he can’t measure morale on the force with complete certainty.’“When I talk to the line officers they say the morale is very high,’” he said. ‘“Last year this time of year the morale was very low.’”The department has always struggled to recruit minority officers, he added. It’s too early to tell whether interest from non-white applicants is up or down.Bellamy said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll apply for the job once the city begins a search for a full-fledged chief, but he indicated he expects to be around for the foreseeable future.’“As far as I know there will be a national search,’” he said. ‘“We did not put any timetable on how long this process would take. It’s been a time-consuming job. The two top officers left so it’s doubled and tripled the amount of work we have to do.’”Bellamy declined to speculate on how long it might take to satisfactorily address all the questions raised about abuses under former chief Wray. ‘“Up until three weeks ago I thought we were over the mountain,’” he said. ‘“Now, who knows? We could have another revelation tomorrow.’”To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

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