Community members gathered at the final public comment meeting for police chief input, bringing up issues of race, transparency and an increased participation in the hiring process.
More than 60 community members gathered at the final public comment meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church in Greensboro on Monday evening to voice their opinions on what kind of person they want as the city’s next police chief.
The current police chief, Wayne Scott, announced his retirement in August. His last day on the job will be Jan. 31, 2020.
The meeting took place in the evening after several in the community pointed out that two of the past input meetings, which took place on weekday afternoons, proved to be prohibitive for those who work during the day. A predominantly black crowd, made up of more than 60 residents, attended the final meeting. Speakers demanded transparency, participation in the process and fair treatment of all residents regardless of race, gender or class.
“It is your night tonight, it is your opportunity to have your voice heard,” said Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, who facilitated the meeting, along with Assistant City Manager Trey Davis. “Because that is what we need to be more about. More inclusive, have more engagement as it relates to how we want our city to look.”
“What we want here is what’s best for all of Greensboro,” said the Rev. Steve Allen of Shiloh Baptist Church at the beginning of the meeting. “We want a police chief for the whole city…. Let’s share the good ideas of what the person should look like…. We want to make sure that whoever is coming will be one who can police the entire city.”
Two employees from Developmental Associates, a consulting company based in Chapel Hill hired to help gather data and make recommendations on the next police chief, attended the meeting to help guide the discussion. Developmental Associates senior consultant Pat Bazemore previously served as Cary’s police chief while Rodney Monroe served as chief for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department before retiring in 2015. In addition to the public meetings, Developmental Associates has been gathering responses from an online survey where community members who couldn’t attend meetings could give their input. As of Monday afternoon, the company said that they had received 258 responses from citizens and 132 responses from police staff.
Before the crowd began to answer questions from Bazemore and Monroe, the question of whether or not Developmental Associates was involved with the hiring of chief Wayne Scott was raised by two speakers.
“Let me just say that Developmental Associates was a part of the last process,” said Bazemore after Hightower prematurely responded that they hadn’t been. “Neither one of us were working for the company at that time. We presented the top three candidates to the city and the city made the determination who they were going to hire.”
Several speakers expressed concerns about what they perceived was a lack of transparency and community involvement when Scott was selected as police chief.
“I am very concerned as it relates to the consultants that we’ve used to handle navigating the process and select the right police,” said the Rev. Cardes Brown.
Brown recalled how in 2015, he was a part of a group of other black pastors and leaders in the city who denounced the decision to appoint Wayne Scott whom the city chose over Danielle Outlaw, then the deputy chief in Oakland, Calif. and now the chief in Portland, Ore as the new police chief.
“I don’t want this to be an exercise in futility,” Brown said.
“We need to know that what you’re going to recommend is not going to be something to just appease the crowd for a little while and let them go on about business as usual. So it has to be a legitimate process. If you’re gonna be our consultants, I think not only should you confer with the people that will make the decision but, don’t railroad us through a process here without coming back and talking to us about where you’re going.”
Bazemore responded by saying that while Developmental Associates helps facilitate the hiring process, that the ultimate decision lies with the city, namely the city manager.
Councilwoman Michelle Kennedy backed Brown’s sentiments and brought up her own issues with the process used the last time a new chief was selected.
“When we hired our last police chief… I can remember a day they called a lot of us to the Greensboro Coliseum,” Kennedy said. “And there were probably about 80 us maybe… to speak with the final two candidates. And it was really striking at the end of that meeting the consensus that was built in that room and the consensus in the room that day was that we all felt strongly about one of those candidates; the other candidate became our police chief.
“Holding a series of meetings about this if once we get down to a final six…or final whatever, if the community is then left out of that process, we still end up with something that’s unacceptable,” she added.
To ensure a more transparent and participatory process this time around, several activists came prepared with a four-page letter, with more than 90 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, outlining specific demands for the next police chief as well as demands for city council, county commission and others. The letter suggests a process that allows the public to watch finalists’ interviews, provides a public forum hosted by a private entity where the public can directly interview the finalists as well as data and records from candidates’ prior police work to be shared publicly.
Guilford County School Board member Byron Gladden suggested that the city council pass a motion that council votes on the police chief rather than letting the city manager decide.
Hightower dismissed the idea, saying it would belabor the process.
In addition to concerns about the transparency of the process, many speakers brought up the issue of race and class when it comes to policing in the city.
Rev. Bradley Hunt brought up a 2015 New York Times article which found that black drivers in Greensboro were disproportionately stopped by police while driving. Zalonda Woods, an advocate for the homeless, made the case to hire someone who has a background in race relations.
“I think that the issue at hand for the current administration in relation to its citizens would be race relations,” Woods said. “The fact that race is not addressed in this city and it is showing up within department as well as outside the department…The biggest we problem we face is race.”
Immigrants and refugees said the next police chief needs to understand the diverse communities that live in the city.
“There needs to be understanding of humanities involved,” said Don Lam, a member of the Cambodian community.
“We need someone who… understands our history and can empathize with our communities, interact with our communities with true cultural competency.”
One of the other major asks from the crowd came in the form of a citizen review board equipped with subpoena power to ensure accountability within the police force. The decision to create such a board rests in the hands of the city council.
“I do support it and I always have,” said Hightower in an interview. “It is something that I think while we may not use it, but it should be available if there is reason to do so. That kind of to me, makes it a fair approach.” When asked if she would vote on a motion to create an independent review board, Hightower said that she would. Councilwoman Kennedy said she also supports the idea of an independent review board.
“I have been in support of that since my days on [Police Community Review Board],” Kennedy said in a text message to Triad City Beat. “I’d like to see those policies be as broad as NC state law allows.”
Several speakers mentioned the fact that Chief Wayne Scott is retiring rather than being fired, after Marcus Deon Smith died after being hogtied by members of the GPD last year. The police officers involved with the case are still currently employed by the police department and have not faced any disciplinary action or criminal charges.
“You can do all the training in the world but if there isn’t disciplinary action, then nothing ever changes,” said the Rev. Sadie Lansdale, who spoke about the current chain of authority in which the city council has authority over the city manager, who in turn hires and fires the police chief.
“That sounds like a ridiculous chain of authority that we’re hearing,” Lansdale said. “And it sounds like it is designed to give us the run-around. So, you can understand why the community does not have trust in this process. The only thing that will change anything is if there is a citizen review board with subpoena and disciplinary power which can ensure that when officers do wrong… they are punished and fired. If that doesn’t happen, nothing’s gonna change and we’ll be right back here in a year.”
Davis said that the city hasn’t advertised the position yet, but hopes to attract applicants over the course of the next month or so, with the goal of selecting a new police chief by Jan. 1. Several speakers urged the city to look for candidates outside the department for the next chief.
“A lot of us feel like the good folks in the police department in Greensboro have been kicked out,” community activist Marcus Hyde said. “So, we need to have a broad look across the country to find someone who can actually articulate something that is bolder, that is more just.”