“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.
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 entered 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, was 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 sounded off as the Honor Guard held a rigid salute and a crisp “Taps” emanated from the bugle, sounding off into the trees. The bagpiper started in with “Amazing Grace” and the men gathered 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.