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SCOTT NAMED GREENSBORO’S NEXT CHIEF OF POLICE

by Jeff Sykes

jeff@yesweekly.com | @jeffreysykes

A 24-year veteran of the Greensboro Police Department was picked to be its next chief during a day of mixed emotions in which members of the African-American leadership decried the appointment as a step backward, while police officers of all sorts cheered the new chief in style.

City Manager Jim Westmoreland introduced Wayne Scott as the next Greensboro chief of police on Thursday during a press conference in the lobby of police headquarters. Members of the department and media lined the lobby walls, while city council members and community leaders, some in staunch opposition to Scott’s appointment, filled the chairs set out in the lobby space.

Westmoreland, twice interrupted in his announcement by black leaders who moments earlier held a vociferous press conference to denounce the selection, maintained his composure as he announced his support for the selection process and his decision to appoint Scott to lead the department.

Thunderous applause and cheers greeted Scott after Westmoreland’s introduction. Scott beamed as he stood at the podium, appearing thankful for the support of his peers and saying he was “humbled and honored to be selected” once the cheers subsided.

Scott thanked Westmoreland and Assistant City Manager Wesley Reid, city staff and community members that were involved in the selection process. He thanked the many citizens who reached out to him the previous night to offer congratulations once his appointment was announced via press release.

Calling the chance to lead the department “the highlight of his career,” Scott vowed to connect with all Greensboro residents who were interested in hearing his vision for public safety in Greensboro.

“I believe in building bridges,” Scott said. “I believe that our community needs that. I think that we have good relationships between the police department and many areas of our community. But we have ones that we need to build stronger bridges in. That work is never done.”

Scott sketched out his vision, which includes reaching out to faith-based groups through a new Chief’s Faith Advisory Council, creating small enhancement groups made up of two or three members of the command staff to examine potential ways to improve community relations, and a pledge to implement the department’s comprehensive Neighborhood Oriented Policing plan.

The plan involves structural changes to police zones and a redistribution of personnel, both geared toward improving response times and maintaining clear lines of responsibility for problem solving on the streets. The plan was shepherded over the last year by Deputy Chief Anita Holder, who herself served as interim chief following Ken Miller’s retirement last year. Full implementation of NOP was put on hold, however, until a new chief was selected.

“We are going to move forward because NOP is a good strategy,” Scott said. “NOP is good for the police department and it’s good for our community.

Any time that we can connect our officers we achieve so much more.”

Scott said the geographic basis of NOP made it a strong plan. He said the plan would be implemented in three stages, with the new geographical patrol zones rolled out in the next three to four months. During that time he plans to begin new community forums and get more feedback about NOP in order to build accountability models and address concerns from both officers and community members.

The second phase will involve the restructuring of officer deployment and take place over the next six months. Full implementation of NOP will follow.

“It’s important to me that we find those solutions before we move to Phase 2,” Scott said. “I fully believe the solutions exist.”

His third goal is to address how the department trains officers and commanders. Scott said he would look at how to address NOP and the “problem solving policing” philosophy it is built upon within the context of the department’s police academy. He also intends to focus on professional development of the command staff.

“It’s incumbent upon the chief to build future leaders and I want to do that,” Scott said. “We have an incredible talent pool here in Greensboro to pick from.”

The forward looking atmosphere of Scott’s introduction clashed with the passionate criticism leveled at Westmoreland by members of the Greensboro Pulpit Forum and representatives of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The groups held a press conference on the steps of city hall about an hour before Scott was introduced as chief. Groups of officers could be seen standing outside of police headquarters looking up the street toward the African-American leaders speaking out against the direction of the department.

The criticism was leveled at the process and the end result.

“We’re here as a community opposed to the lack of inclusion and the process in general, the secretive nature of the process that unfolded throughout the last months in the search for a new police chief,” said Irving Allen, an organizer of the event. “We feel like the community should have been much more included.”

Holden Cession, a representative of the Black Lives Matter movement, read a statement that decried the “documented history of abuse, conspiracy and dissension” within the department.

Rev. Nelson Johnson, a 40-year critic of the Greensboro Police Department, said that Scott was too deeply connected to former Chief David Wray’s administration and would be unable to unite the department and the city. Johnson, and other black ministers, called on the city manager and city council to stop Scott’s appointment and begin a new, more open process to search for a police chief.

When pressed for specific criticism of Scott, Johnson said that Scott had appointed a controversial officer, Scott Saunders, to the Special Intelligence Division of the GPD after Saunders had been cleared of wrongdoing related to the treatment of black officers under Chief Wray’s tenure.

Johnson and Rev. Cardes Brown both pointed out that Scott stated his worst day as a police officer was when City Manager Mitchell Johnson locked Chief Wray out of his office during the height of departmental tension in late 2005.

Reporters asked Johnson if there were more problems with Scott’s history with the department, or if it was merely guilt by association with former Chief Wray.

“It’s not really about him, it’s about the culture that he grew out of and the inability of the city so far to resolve that culture, which takes as a matter of its normal action, the abuse of power when it comes to black people and people of color,” Johnson said. “It’s not so much guilt by association. It is a pattern that is built into the culture of the police department, of which Wayne Scott is a part.”

Scott was asked at his press conference if he was surprised by the criticism.

“Surprised is probably not the word,” Scott said. “Disappointed. But as I said, we have to build bridges. I recognize that. Not everyone in this room agrees upon a lot of things, and obviously my appointment is one of those things. In order for us to move forward … we have to be willing and able to build those bridges. Bridges are typically built from both sides.”

Moments earlier Scott had asked his deputy chiefs, which include two black men, a female and a white male, to stand beside him.

“This is an excellent command team,” Scott said. “They have kept us on track this far, and they will continue to do so.”

City Manager Westmoreland said he felt confident about the future of the department, but that there were many things left to accomplish.

“We have a great community in Greensboro, but we’re not at the point yet where everybody in this community feels included in the things that are important,” Westmoreland said. “Certainly there are members of this community that we need to reach out to, to help build additional trust both in the city and the police department.”

City council member Marikay Abuzuaiter, one of five council members present at the announcement, said she had not been contacted with any concerns about Scott’s appointment prior to the event.

“If the points made were valid, then I feel like I would have been included,” Abuzuaiter said. “I’m sure this was a difficult decision for (Westmoreland), but we hired him to do the right thing.”

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she felt that solutions were possible.

“I pledge to work with the new chief to build the bridges that he was talking about,” Vaughan said. “I think it’s my job to look forward and reach out to anyone that feels they’ve been disenfranchised.”

One of the deputy chiefs that stood with Scott toward the end of the press conference was Deputy Chief James Hinson, who commands the department’s patrol operations. Hinson has long been one of the most visible and well-known officers in the department. He was a central figure in the events that eventually brought about former Chief Wray’s resignation.

When asked about the appointment, and the implication that the new chief might not be acceptable to the city’s African American leadership, Hinson was resolute.

“I support Chief Scott 100-percent,” Hinson said. “At the end of the day it is time for us to move forward.” !

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