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 to 2006, 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 97-part series between 2006 and 2009 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.