GPD Chief and community address creating respectful environments and effective partnershipsBy Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / March 9, 2023
Transparency, accountability and addressing violent crime were the top concerns from citizens at a public meeting of Northeast Greensboro residents.
Greensboro Police Department Chief John Thompson led the two and a half hour meeting, one hour and a half past the scheduled time, at Peeler Recreation Center on March 2 listening to feedback provided by area residents.
“I want to know how we can be better at community partnerships, and how the police department meets the expectations that you have for us. We need to figure out a way to address these needs and merge them with what the police department is doing,” said Thompson.Thompson became police chief in December 2022, following the retirement of former GPD Chief Brian James. A native of Cobb, California, Thompson’s career in law enforcement began in 1998 in the Triad with the Asheboro Police Department. Thompson first joined the Greensboro Police Department in October 2003 serving in various roles over the years.
“I realize that I have big shoes to fill,” said the 46-year-old chief.
According to data supplied by the GPD, police districts 1, 3 and 4 say that traffic is their biggest concern. Police district 2 data, which includes Northeast Greensboro, indicates that violent crime is the biggest concern, and scored the lowest on the sense of safety and trust of law enforcement metrics.
“We want services, outcomes and resources,” said Kay Brown, president of the NAACP Greensboro branch. “We are required to speak truth to power. The complaints that I get are about the level of service. People don’t feel that they are being treated with respect.”
Multiple residents recounted stories of police encounters, where they did not feel they were treated like human beings when interacting with officers.
“One of my philosophies is that I do think that enforcement is necessary for policing. But that is not our only tool. I think we have the opportunity in our organization to create partnerships in the community that address crime at the root causes like poverty, education, lack of transportation and lack of resources,” Thompson said, adding that officers are required to give their name and badge number when asked, according to GPD policy.
The police department has been given a $2 million grant that will fund a pilot program to help connect the community with resources to address the root causes of crime.
“I can say that we have due process for officers, but I have discretion as chief that if I see behavior that reached an egregious level that I can make the decision to terminate that officer immediately,” said Thompson. “Everybody in here has an expectation of standards for the police department. Let me tell you that my expectations are higher. As police chief I hold my officers to the highest standard that I can.”
GPD is currently facing a police shortage with 117 officer positions open. Thompson briefly touched on recruitment efforts, noting that he is aware of the challenges of recruitment when surrounding counties offer a higher starting salary for police officers.
“Please let your public officials know that funding for public safety is important,” said Thompson.
Residents also inquired about addressing mental health situations without the use of excessive force. Thompson said mental health crisis response policies have been implemented, where a mental health crisis counselor can be called to an incident if officers deem it necessary.
Ernestine Sturgeon, president of the Claremont Courts Neighborhood Association, applauded the police department’s individual officers who spend time in Northeast Greensboro and give back to the community.
“What we’ve done in this neighborhood only worked because of the hard work of the people. I want to continue to see our neighborhood grow,” said Sturgeon.
Thompson said he was aware that there has been a change in the sentiment towards law enforcement, particularly following the deaths of George Floyd and Tyre Nichols at the hands of police. But with a new police chief and four new assistant chiefs, Thompson said he is confident that the transition in GPD leadership will make a positive impact.
“When we start to build headway, incidents like those send us back. It makes us have to work ten times harder to gain the support of the community. Hold the GPD accountable but support us when we do what you want us to do,” he said.