The next chief of police in Greensboro is homegrown and familiar — a city native who graduated from Page High School and N.C. A&T and spent his childhood on a quiet street in Woodmere Park.
Brian L. James, a deputy chief in the department, will succeed outgoing Chief Wayne Scott, who is retiring at the end of the month. The new chief was chosen from a field of roughly 40 internal and external candidates.
James, 49, has been a member of the Greensboro police force since 1996 and brings a rich variety of experience to the leadership post. He has served in a Police Neighborhood Resource Center, the Criminal Investigations Division, the Training Division and the Resource Management Division. An MBA from Pfeiffer University and instruction in the FBI National Academy, the Administrative Officers Management program at N.C. State and the Senior Management Institute for Police round out his impressive resume.
In his current job, James is the bureau commander of the Patrol Division. He steps into a job that will bring with it an array of urgent challenges. The September 2018 death of a homeless man, Marcus Smith, after being taken into custody by police sparked protests and a lawsuit. The department’s stated goal of community policing, both to fight crime and build trust, remains more an aspiration than a reality.
There is the ongoing struggle to recruit and retain the best talent, as other law enforcement agencies across the state face the same limited hiring pool.
Then there were the 44 homicides in Greensboro in 2019, tying a record previously set in 2017. That trend results from deeper issues in the community, from poverty to gangs to drugs to education to troubled families, but the police will continue to play a key role in addressing it.
As a veteran officer, James is familiar with these problems and pledges in particular to build greater trust between police and the community.
Even though many in the community had voiced a desire for an outside hire, the early reactions to James’ promotion are positive.
“I truly think Brian is ready to tackle the problems of Greensboro head on and he’s the right person for the job,” said City Councilwoman Michelle Kennedy, who is executive director of the city’s day center for the homeless, the Interactive Resource Center.
Even some of the staunchest critics of police appeared open-minded and hopeful. Community activists scheduled a “teach-in” for Saturday to provide input and ideas to James. The parents of Marcus Smith planned to attend.
“When it comes to the things that concern our community around accountability, serving marginalized citizens and holistic approaches to policing,” anti-violence activist C.J. Brinson wrote on his Facebook page, “I think Brian James gives this community the best opportunity to gain some ground on these issues.”
Said Mayor Nancy Vaughan: “Certainly he understands the city of Greensboro and what our issues are.”
So, what might have been considered a liability — James’ status as an “insider — turns out to be an asset. He knows Greensboro. Greensboro knows him. And the community seems eager to work with him to make things better.