Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott: Meeting the challenges and his goals for 2016

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- No one can say Wayne Scott’s doesn’t know each part of the Greensboro Police Department. He’s worked in just about all of them. He was sworn in as chief last March, and it marked a 25-plus year journey from patrol officer, training officer, corporal, sergeant, to assistant chief.

Today, like many police chiefs across the country, he’s working to build trust within the community by making the department more transparent while -- at the same time -- fighting crime.

Many were against his appointment. They labeled him as an insider incapable of tearing down barriers between police and the city’s African-American community.

That issue was amplified by the October front-page New York Times article that pointed out disparities in the department’s treatment of blacks and whites in traffic stops.

“The numbers are accurate,” he told me when referring to the statistics in the article. “But we need to understand what drove the decisions that put officers in those areas that drove the numbers.”

To push that understanding, Scott ordered his officers to stop pulling people over for minor equipment infractions like broken tail lights. It’s a move he says is temporary but not yet conclusive.

There’s also a new emphasis on better communication skills in officer training.

“At the end of the day, what we found is it’s about soft skills,” he said. “It’s about de-escalation techniques. It’s about learning how to maintain control of a situation with nothing but verbal cues.”

Scott does believe one good thing to come out of the article is the open dialog with certain people in the community that didn’t exist before. That’s a big part of -- among many other things -- the full implementation this year of a neighborhood policing strategy that’s putting more officers out in the communities they serve.

The officers who are part of a new street crimes unit are in these neighborhoods in plain clothes. Scott says they’re not only more approachable, they’re better addressing the steady increase in gun violence.

The department still, however, faces misconceptions.

“A lot of times, the simple question may be, ‘Why can’t we see that?’ Well, you can’t see that, and I’m referring to personnel law because the state of North Carolina won’t let me show it to you,” he told me specifically referring to the police body cameras all Greensboro patrol officers wear.

Scott’s and other city leaders are pushing state lawmakers for more leeway that would allow his department to release the video in certain circumstances, something he says would help his efforts to -- in the eyes of his critics -- become more transparent.

“Let’s sit down and talk about it. Get to know me,” he said. “Get to know my strategies for bringing our community together. And I think what most of those individuals will find is we’re very similar in what we want.”