I was not part of the media swarm that enveloped Brian James of the Greensboro Police Department upon the city’s announcement of his ascension to chief on Tuesday morning.
I’ll get my turn with Chief James when he takes office in February. But for now, I’ll describe how he got here — because it’s possible that Jordan Green and I are the only working newspaper journalists in the Triad who might remember when James’ future with the GPD looked uncertain.
Who else remembers Julius Fulmore, Scott Sanders, the Black Book and the Secret Police, the RMA Report and all of the other trappings of the David Wray fiasco that embroiled the GPD beginning in January 2006, when City Manager Mitch Johnson locked then-chief Wray from his office and all the trouble began?
I edited a few hundred thousand words on the Wray Fray as it unfolded in real time and wrote a few thousand more, competing against narratives set by city council, a new crop of “citizen-journalist” bloggers that had spring up in the city and a nearly 100-part propaganda series by true-crime writer Jerry Bledsoe that appeared over the course of three years or so in the old print version of the Rhinoceros Times that did not survive the paper’s migration to digital format.
In that period, James had gone from being assistant to the chief to a man in fear of keeping his job.
There was a lot of turnover in the GPD in those intervening years. James survived the culling.
Eventually he and James Hinson would settle their EEOC claim against the city and go on to become part of command staff under Chief Wayne Scott. Hinson’s story spun off in a different direction last year, but James quietly fulfilled his duties, bided his time and, almost 15 years later, got his due.
As chief, James scratches a lot of itches. He’s not the first black chief in Greensboro, not by a longshot — Sylvester Daughtry got that title way back in 1987 — but he’s local, a graduate of both Page High School and NC A&T University, and in his 23 years on the force he’s done just about everything but ride a Segway. And he’s been preparing for this for a long time.
Make no mistake: I have no idea how James will perform under the pressure of modern police dilemmas, how he’ll navigate the link between crime and mental illness or addiction, what his priorities will be when he puts his people out on the street in February.
For that matter, I’m not certain if any police chief has an effect on crime and violence, as those are functions society’s failures, not the result of less policing.
But I’ve been watching this story unfold for almost 15 years, and unlike a lot of things I’ve covered, I consider this a fine resolution.