Greensboro police Chief Wayne Scott stood stock still in the vestibule of Centenary United Methodist Church as his command staff milled around him, all in dress blues, waiting for their moment.
When it came, they fell easily into formation, with Deputy Chiefs Brian James and James Hinson taking point. They led the column into the nave, solemnly marching the aisle and turning crisply at the display before the altar, which included tall candles, a large spray of autumn flowers, an American flag folded 13 times into a perfect triangle and the cremated remains of William Edgar Swing Sr., chief of the Greensboro Police Department from 1975-84.
As they sat, the piano faded down to a single-note rendition of “Taps.”
“He was never my chief,” Scott had said the day before. “But he was a highly regarded chief in the organization.”
Police Chaplain Steven Roberts did the honors.
“He was a great innovator,” he said from the pulpit. “He had a vision for our department that was outside the box so far only he knew where he was going with it.
“He was so far ahead of his time,” Roberts added.
As chief in the 1970s, Swing introduced computers to the GPD, one of the first departments in the nation to do so. Before computer-aided dispatch, technology that coordinated police activity from the incoming call to the incident report, “we just simply got on the radio and told ’em where to go,” Roberts said. Monitors in the cruisers integrated with CAD and the DMV database, so police could run license plates from the car.
“This, in the 1970s, this was an incredible feat,” Roberts said. “Cases we once thought impossible cleared in record time. And information that seemed unattainable was at our fingertips.”
Chief Swing created the hostage negotiation unit, the K-9 unit, special response team, underwater recovery team, the bomb squad and the community services bureau. He broke patrols down into divisions and changed the workweek for officers from seven days on and two days off to five days on and three off. And he changed the uniform from two-tone blue to solid black.
His efforts had a seismic effect on the department, which was noted as one of the finest in the nation.
But Swing’s transition of the department from a small-town operation to a modern force did not come without some pains.
He lost an officer, Michael Gray Winslow, who died in a wreck while on duty in 1978. He was just 21.
And Swing oversaw the worst episode in the department’s modern history: The Greensboro Massacre, an attack by Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan against a Communist Workers Party rally that resulted in five deaths and 10 more wounded while the police were nowhere in sight. Though nobody was convicted of the murders, a civil trial in 1985 found the department negligent in protecting the civil rights of its citizens. An independent Truth & Reconciliation effort begun in 2004 found that the police acted in collusion with the Klan by allowing the shootings to happen after they had been warned about the potential for violence.
Froim the conclusion: “The intelligence that violence was likely combined with the lack of police action to prevent it clearly shows negligence by the police in their duty…. The GPD showed a stunning lack of curiosity in planning for the safety of the event.”
In 2009, city council made a formal declaration of regret.
But a eulogist can be forgiven for glossing over this part of the story, even turning it to his advantage.
“At a very busy time in the department’s life,” Roberts said, “the chief was the one we looked to.”
Behind the command unit, several pews sat empty. Officers from Swing’s era with the GPD filled the final five rows, among them former Chief David Wray, who came to say goodbye to their chief.
Wayne Scott wasn’t one of those kids who had always wanted to be a cop. He grew up in Burlington, and studied photography at Randolph Community College. By the time he was 20, he was running furniture shoots during the day and freelancing some photojournalism for the Associated Press in his spare time. That’s when he first started thinking about it.
He matriculated with the 68th class of the Greensboro Police Academy in 1991, at just 21 years old, under Chief Sylvester Daughtry, who took office in 1987 and made his mark by greatly expanding the staff to more than 400 sworn officers. Like Swing, Daughtry received national recognition for his accomplishments with the force.
“As a young police officer,” Scott said “I’m thinking, Man, you know, we are a police department that other people know about, not just this rinky-dink operation.”
He remembers his first call, a domestic disturbance with a Vietnamese family in an apartment in the edge of town where a father was hitting his daughter. A few years later, while he was on motorcycle patrol, he took a noise complaint at what turned out to be a bachelorette party.
“They thought I was… an entertainer,” he said.
He got his first big promotion, to sergeant, in 2002 from Chief Robert White, who was the first outside hire for the department. White, Scott said, was distant, but also effective, and brought some modern techniques from Washington DC, where he had previously served.
Scott worked under three more chiefs on his way up the chain of command, garnering a promotion to lieutenant in 2007 and a bump up to captain in 2009, both courtesy of Chief Tim Bellamy.
Bellamy, Scott said, came on at a tumultuous time.
“We needed stability,” Scott said, “and that calmed the waters.”
Chief Ken Miller saw fit in 2012 to bring Scott on as deputy chief.
“He had a lot of different philosophies, and brought a lot of new ways from Charlotte,” Scott said of Miller. “He taught me there was more than one way to do things.”
Along the way he began amassing degrees — a bachelor’s in business and management from John Wesley College in High Point, a masters in management from Liberty University and various degrees in leadership and management.
“I am a fan of higher learning,” he said.
It was Miller who encouraged him to apply for the chief’s job in Winston-Salem in 2012. Out of 50 applicants, Scott was one of three finalists, along with Barry Rountree, who eventually got the gig, and Kerr Putney, who was sworn in earlier this year as chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department.
“That is the moment it hit me,” he said. “This is a possibility. Maybe I am the right guy for the job.”
From there it was a short road to the chief’s office, which Scott attained in 2014 after a lengthy search process, beating out Danielle Outlaw, a deputy chief from Oakland, Calif.
“I’ve held every rank in the Greensboro Police Department,” he said. “Right now, I’m the only one in the department who can say that because there’s only one chief.”
The only chief who never promoted Scott was David Wray, who served from 2003-06, when he was locked out of his office and encouraged to resign.
By most who remember it, Wray’s department was a disaster. One of his first actions was to return the patrols to rotating shifts as opposed to regular hours, bringing instability to the officers’ home lives and also to the beats they covered.
Any positive actions he took regarding officer training or downtown initiatives would be overshadowed by the revelations that led to his resignation.
To trace the many overarching narratives that contributed to the demise of David Wray would require many thousands of words, but the shorthand is that he was using department resources to investigate his own officers, all of whom happened to be black, and compiling files on them. Upon hearing this and conferring with city council, City Manager Mitch Johnson locked Wray out of his own office to prevent him from accessing official files.
In the years between 2005 and 2010, the department was awash in the ensuing scandals, which included lawsuits, an EEOC complaint by black officers, a damning report from a third-party investigation, criminal charges and a trial for officers Scott Sanders and Tom Fox, the eventual firing of Johnson and reams upon reams of media coverage. The city’s burgeoning blog scene latched onto the case and its developments, twisting it into a partisan battle. The Rhinoceros Times, in a past incarnation, infamously ran a 92-part series between 2006-09 by true-crime author Jerry Bledsoe that further muddied the waters.
Wray’s tenure as chief, no matter which side it was viewed from, would color the department into the new decade.
“I never saw him,” Scott said. “I was a sergeant in the motorcycle division, more out in the world than in the building.”
But two of his friends on the force, Brian James and James Hinson — both lieutenants at the time — took heavy fire from Wray’s special investigations unit and the Bledsoe series. James, with 38 other black officers, would sign the EEOC complaint, which the city settled in 2013 for $500,000, and Hinson would file a separate suit against the city that he settled in July 2014 for $25,000.
“I don’t feel vindicated,” Hinson said from his desk at GPD headquarters. “No. Because what I went through, nothing can ever give me back those precious years that were taken away from me.”
Chief Miller made Hinson a captain in 2011, and a deputy chief in February 2014, a month before Scott got the top job. Hinson and Scott went through the academy together back in 1991 — “I beat him in the mile-and-a-half run,” Hinson said. “He won’t admit it but I did.” — and Hinson was up for the chief job at the same time as his old classmate.
He’s not bitter about it, though; Scott’s department uses a lot of the policing philosophies that have marked Hinson’s career, notably community involvement, civic-minded programs, positive interaction with the people who rely on police the most.
“The more good things you do in a neighborhood, the more bad things move away,” Hinson said. “Criminals are not going to frequent a neighborhood where people are united and work together, and say, ‘We’re not gonna tolerate this kind of behavior.’”
Hinson said the Wray episode still haunts him. Earlier this year, he stopped to give an “elderly, Caucasian female” directions in the labyrinthine hallways of Melvin Municipal Building and he caught her looking at his name badge.
“I’ve read a lot about you,” the woman said. “You don’t seem to be the bad guy everyone makes you out to be.”
“Ma’am,” he said, “you can’t believe everything you read.”
On a warm October Friday, Chief Wayne Scott worked his table at a Big Brothers/Big Sisters event at Revolution Mill in northeast Greensboro. He put both vinaigrette and ranch dressing on his salad, and managed a standing wave as his name was announced from the podium.
As he tried to eat, the giant cell phone clipped to his belt buzzed off phone calls: from City Manager Jim Westmoreland, from each of his deputy chiefs and one from Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, that he excuses himself from the table to take.
“I work for the city manager,” he said. “That’s my boss. But I also work for every citizen of Greensboro. I can’t go out to eat at night without people coming up. I do answer to city council; seldom a day goes by that I don’t receive a call from a council member. Don’t forget the legislative body — I have a lot of laws and regulations I am sworn to defend.”
He oversees the staff of 800 — about 675 of them sworn officers — and a fleet of more than 500 vehicles that includes a boat, a pit-maneuver vehicle and two bomb robots. It’s a bit like being the CEO of a company with a $70 million budget.
“I am also the dean of a college,” he said, referring to the academy that trains officers.
On the way back to HQ, Scott swung through the training facility to get a look at the recruits: 20-40 of them, every 25 weeks.
“I really enjoy training,” he said. “It’s how you are able to affect an organization at its roots.”
He rubbed sanitizer on his hands and popped into a classroom; to a one the cadets swiveled around to see. It’s Homecoming Weekend at NC A&T University, and they’ll be on the street tonight assisting patrols.
“It’s a big weekend,” he told them. “Enjoy the sights, enjoy the city and be careful.
“And don’t do anything stupid on social media,” he added.
Scott’s time as chief began inauspiciously. After being sworn in on March 12, 2015, his department was called out by the New York Times in October for pulling over black motorists at a rate disproportionately higher than white ones, the worst in the state. [Disclosure: Eric Ginsburg contributed reporting for this article, and Jordan Green wrote about the same statistics in TCB five months before the NYT.]
It read, in part: “Here in North Carolina’s third-largest city, officers pulled over African-American drivers for traffic violations at a rate far out of proportion with their share of the local driving population. They used their discretion to search black drivers or their cars more than twice as often as white motorists — even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white.
“Officers were more likely to stop black drivers for no discernible reason,” it continued. “And they were more likely to use force if the driver was black, even when they did not encounter physical resistance.”
Though Scott pushed back against the report, he issued a special order just a couple weeks later to patrol, instructing them not to make traffic stops based solely on equipment infractions. He told the Times in a follow-up article that officers’ time would be better spent getting to know the people in the communities they police.
Six months later, in May 2016, at the behest of city council, Scott’s department released a piece of body-camera footage from Chief Miller’s era, showing police officer Tim Bloch shooting a middle-aged and mentally infirm Montagnard woman, Chieu Di Thi Vo, to death in front of her home.
The footage is disturbing — Vo is holding a knife when she crumples to the ground. It’s also incomplete, as the camera is angled towards the sky during the initial part of the confrontation; Scott told reporters that the glasses that held the camera were on the officer’s head and happened to drop just as he fired his weapon.
Though Bloch resigned from the department shortly afterward, his use of deadly force was found justifiable.
Then, in September, another crisis came in the form of another piece of video footage, this one showing Officer Travis Cole roughing up citizen Dejuan Yourse, who was sitting on his mother’s porch.
The videos, taken from Cole’s body camera and that of his partner, Charlotte Jackson, show Cole engaging in conversation with Yourse over the summer, and then initiating a physical confrontation.
At Scott’s behest, city council voted unanimously to release the body-camera footage to the press and the public. It quickly went viral, the latest internet example of police behaving badly. Scott says he took a lot of heat for making the footage public.
“The whole process evolved like any other,” he said. “We did our investigation, asked our own questions about the timeline. You can’t do this in 24 hours. We went through our process, it got to me, and I adjudicated it.”
In August, weeks before the video release, a department board led by Hinson had found that Cole violated procedure on use of force, search and seizure, compliance with the law and basic courtesy. During the course of the investigation, Cole resigned.
“Weeks later we started hearing from the Faith Leaders Council that there were some rumors in the community,” Scott said. “We wanted to get ahead of it. We got ahold of council and showed them the video in closed session.
“Police work is not always pleasant to watch,” he said.
Of note is that it was the chief’s idea to make this footage — the second released in Greensboro in a single year — public. Councilmembers Tony Wilkins and Mike Barber, the two most conservative voices, both said they voted to release the video on Scott’s say-so.
“Not a lot of chiefs would have done that,” he said. “But we wanted to be transparent.”
Deputy Chief Brian James became a lieutenant under Chief Wray in 2004 and was named one of his executive officers. It seemed he was on his way until his name came up in an investigation by Wray’s internal unit.
His reputation under fire, James began to question his decision to become a police officer in the city where he grew up. Though he was qualified to apply for other chief positions around the country, his internet footprint — the Bledsoe series in particular, which mentioned him by name many times — made him a less than desirable candidate.
He hung on, becoming a captain in 2009 under Chief Bellamy and in 2011 taking command of Central Patrol.
Chief Scott named him his second deputy chief in May 2015.
James is reluctant to talk about the Wray years, except to say that he is glad they are behind him, and that perhaps there was some higher purpose to it all.
“We’re a better department as a result of that scrutiny we went through,” he said. “We improved our policies and practices.”
The department’s newfound service to transparency, he says, is part of that.
“When we’re transparent, we’re gonna tell you the bad stuff and the good stuff,” he said. “We’re gonna show it to you so you know we have identified it and are addressing it.
“We just want the public to know we’re trying to do things the right way,” he added. “It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes. But we build that trust so that when we do make a mistake, they trust us to fix it.”
Given his time in the public eye, he is still not sure if the public interprets it that way.
Of Wray’s tenure, Scott said, “I went from working for Daughtry, who brought great honor to this city and this police department, to working for a chief who had been locked out of his office. Right or wrong, It was a bad day for the PD.”
In Greensboro, here is how we send off a chief.
At the end of the church ceremony, a bugler and a bagpiper enter the nave; under the low-pitched squeal of the pipes, the Honor Guard retrieves the remains of Chief Ed Swing and in formation walks past the congregation of friends, family, and officers past and present. Former Mayor Jim Melvin, under whom Swing served, is here to pay his respects, and just about everybody who’s left from the community of officers and civil servants of his time.
Outside, 21 guns sound off as the Honor Guard held a rigid salute and a crisp “Taps” emanates from the bugle, sounding off into the trees. The bagpiper starts in with “Amazing Grace” and the men gather in the space sway on their feet, stare into the distance or look at the ground.
It is cold and cloudless; there is no wind.
Chief Scott holds his salute for the fallen chief, who was not his chief, but now, in a way, they are all his chiefs.
“I have looked back and tried to learn from every chief before me, including David Wray,” he said.
After his resignation, Wray sued the city for discrimination. His suit was dismissed in 2013, but he took the city to court to pay his legal bills, which amounted to $100,000.
Former Chief Tim Bellamy became chief of the NC Central University Police in 2012. He was charged with DWI in 2014.
Ken Miller left Greensboro to became the chief in Greensville, SC. He and his department are currently being sued by a former officer who claims he was fired for speaking out about the way they handled a Black Lives Matter protest.
Robert White became chief of police in Denver in 2011. Among his department’s current scandals are an officer-involved shooting of a carjacker in July — the officer was cleared of charges last month — and a lawsuit from a couple who says their civil rights were violated when they were detained in a detox center at a Broncos game.
Sylvester Daughtry became the executive director for the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies in 1999 and served until 2013, when he retired.
Scott is just 46, only two years into a job he intends to hold for a very long time, provided he can keep his various bosses and constituencies happy.
Now he drops his salute and carries the folded flag over to Swing’s survivors: his wife, their kids and grandkids. He leans in and says a few words to the widow. The chaplain offers a benediction, and the officers are dismissed.
They scatter in their dress blues; the chief is headed downtown with his command staff to walk Elm Street during the Festival of Lights.
After everyone has gone, a final member of the Honor Guard loads the cremains of Chief Swing, encased now and forever in a silver urn, into the back of his SUV for one last ride.
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