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 to 1984.
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.