Deputy Police Chief Brian James won’t be sworn in as the Greensboro police chief until next week, but he held his first community forum as police chief on Wednesday, Jan. 22 at Peeler Recreation Center and answered every question thrown at him for two hours.

James started by noting he grew up in the community and had learned how to play basketball in the gym where they were meeting.

The big news is that James did answer questions.  He often didn’t give the answer that the questioner wanted to hear, but he listened to the long speeches that preceded many of the questions and gave honest, thoughtful answers.

There were few softballs thrown his way during the question period and, unfortunately, too many questions were asked by the same people who appear before the City Council every month, repeating the same things over and over again.

James made it clear that he does intend to bring change to the Greensboro Police Department and that he is proud of the work the Police Department has done, which is not to say that they haven’t made mistakes.

James repeatedly said that his goal was to have the police treat everyone “with dignity and respect.”

About the third time James was asked if the Police Department would adopt a policy to use the names and pronouns transgender people prefer, rather than what is on their drivers license, James said that the police couldn’t adopt a different policy for every identity group that existed, but if that was a problem, they would work on a solution.

Lewis Pitts accused James of talking, “like you are in an ivory tower.”

James said, “I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m a black man.  When I take this uniform off, I’m still black.”  James said he understood what it was like to live in the world as a black man and have somebody cross the street because they didn’t want to walk past you.

But he said, “I have certain responsibilities to the entire community.”

He added, “We are going to move this city forward.  We are going to do the best we can and the whole time we are going to talk about it.”

James got a round of applause from the crowd of about 150 people.

When asked about a long list of cases that the questioner believed were examples of police misconduct, James said, “My charge is to go forward.  I can’t change history.”

And when asked about certain police officers who according to the questioner had a history of arresting homeless people and black people.  James pointed out that police officers who work in certain areas were more likely to arrest homeless people and blacks because that is where they were.

James answered questions for two hours and spoke a lot about communication, cooperation and listening to the community.  Some of the questioners might not have liked the answers they got, but the crowd appeared to be really pleased with their new police chief.

The forum was held by Greensboro Neighbors for Safety, Justice and Well Being For All.