Chief Brian James

Ellen Richardson | July 19th, 2021
Chief Brian James (Photos by TMF Photography)

Chief Brian James (Photos by TMF Photography)

The 23rd chief of the Greensboro Police Department Brian James, is a perfect picture of following the Yellow Brick Road of Success. Born in Northeast Greensboro, James was raised in the realm of responsibility by both his mother as well as his hard-working grandparents. Beginning a life of “doing his part to help his family” by mowing lawns at the early age of 9-years-old, it wouldn’t be long before the future chief would find his next level of accountability.

“I played football, ran track, and even worked at a grocery store while attending high school at Paige High School,” said James. “I did all this while keeping good grades, which I believe taught me the focus and duty that I needed to eventually become a successful member of the Greensboro Police Department. In fact, I owe a lot of what I learned from being a disciplined athlete/student to where I am today.”

Despite being recruited by college scouts, for his athletic abilities, the man who would use the fortitude that he was given at an early age would use this to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration from North Carolina A&T State University. “The funny thing is that when I began my college career, I was not even considering being a police officer, but I knew that I wanted to do something that positively impacted the community. This is why I began to pursue a career in law enforcement,” James stated.

Although he would have to begin this career as a detention officer for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department, the future police chief would receive the opportunity to continue his path toward success as a police officer for the Greensboro Police Department in 1996. After serving as an accomplished officer for the 72nd PBIC, James quickly worked his way up the ladder serving as a corporal and even a sergeant. In 2006, the young man who would continue to focus on doing anything that it took to serve his community obtained his Master of Business Administration degree from Pfeiffer University.

“In the past, you would have been hard-pressed to find anybody in law enforcement with a graduate degree, but the expectation around education has definitely increased over the years,” said James. “Knowing this, I decided that if I wanted to help the Greensboro Police Department run successfully far into the future, I needed to continue to learn more about the business side of running a municipal department. The MBA program gave me the ability to look at this side of police work on a deeper level.”

Along with both an undergraduate and graduate degree, James also became a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the Administrative Officer’s Management program at North Carolina State University, and the Senior Management Institute for Police. Each assisted the destined police chief in taking on added responsibility.

Regardless of his success, James has also had to deal with numerous challenges. The most challenging of these times came during his first year as Greensboro’s Chief of Police. Following his swearing-in ceremony in February 2020, the Corona Virus brought communities everywhere, including Greensboro, NC, to its knees. After this, a national movement would begin following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“The lifeblood of our department is having positive relationships with the Greensboro community, and when the virus hit, we were asking officers to have as little contact with others as possible, to keep them both safe and healthy,” said James. “Leading up to the protests, we really had been, in a large way, disconnected from this community. Managing these protests daily made this a bit more challenging. We wanted to allow people to exercise their First Amendment rights all while keeping some order. It was difficult, despite most of these protests being peaceful, there were arrests, boarded-up windows, and vandalism — all things the pandemic amplified.”

James’s first challenging year as chief was also amplified by the record-setting 60 homicides in 2020, which were largely due to gang activity, drugs, and domestic disputes. While many in his position might pass fault towards others beneath him, this inspiring leader decided to put all his efforts towards listening to his community to find a solution to improve.

“Following the height of the pandemic, we had patrol officers in many neighborhoods go out and knock on doors. This allowed our officers and our neighbors an opportunity to get to know one another, all while giving our neighbors a chance to voice their concerns,” said James. “This program, along with bringing back some of our community outreach events like neighborhood cookouts, have received a positive response, and we plan to include this program far into the future.”

Understanding that communication is the key to healing has also inspired James to give birth to new programs. The first of these involves hiring a Department Resource Coordinator, who assists officers out in the field to find the appropriate organizations and companies to aid both individuals and families in their given neighborhoods with issues such as domestic violence, gainful employment, food insecurity, etc.

“Earlier this year, the Greensboro Police Department also implemented the Behavioral Health Response Team where we have mental health clinicians riding along with police officers when a mental health call comes in,” James enthusiastically stated. “Along with being on the scene with the individual in need, this clinician is also responsible for following-up with the person involved to try to get them connected with the healthcare that they need, which we are hoping will lower the number of repeat calls that we have of this nature.”

Stating that his overarching goal is to “make decisions that will be both life and community changing”, James said that he is also doing everything he can to teach officers to “humanize” each person they encounter. “I try to make them realize that each Greensboro resident who may need our assistance is not just a call. They are human, and we are making important decisions that could impact their lives forever.”

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