Police Chief negligent; City Council complicit

A person was shot yesterday at an illegal gaming parlor that Greensboro’s police chief has knowingly and publicly allowed to continue to operate without any objections from city council.

GREENSBORO, NC — An acquaintance recently was explaining to me that the issue of police accountability should not be a liberal or conservative issue, but that it is in everybody’s interest because, whether you are coming at it from the angle of expectations of police conduct or from a desire for fiscal responsibility, nobody wins when improper police conduct causes the city financial liability.

Yesterday, I sent an email to the acquaintance saying that I found the Greensboro Police Department’s actions on the “fish game” gambling parlors to fall into that realm—that the GPD’s decision to declare these games illegal, observe that they are magnets for crime and, yet, give the owners 30 days to shut down was a kind of negligence that was putting the interests of admittedly illegal business owners ahead of the safety of the public who visit these places; and exposing the city to financial liability.

I wrote of the robberies that are occurring at these places:

“If someone were to get shot during such a robbery, Greensboro would very likely be sued. The police allowed an illegal situation that they knew to be dangerous to public safety to continue.”

90 minutes after writing that, GPD issued a press release announcing that someone was shot at one of these places, during an armed robbery of King of the Skill Fish Business at 1510 Woodmere Dr, in a residential neighborhood. Thankfully, the as-yet unnamed victim was described as suffering from non-life threatening injuries.

A few weeks ago, on June 12th, GPD announced that it was giving these gambling operations 30 days to shut down. In explaining the delay, GPD Chief Wayne Scott said:

“We are offering business owners the opportunity to voluntarily comply with the law because they may not be aware that the games are illegal. Most owners are not the criminal type.”

Think about that. The Chief has deliberately decided to allow dangerous illegal activity to continue. He wants the offenders to “voluntarily” comply with the law, but not immediately. He offers two reasons, neither of which take into account what should be his primary consideration.

First, the Chief says that the owners are not aware that the games are illegal. Not only is the Chief making an assumption about what the owners may or may not know, something he cannot possibly know, he is saying that, for these illegal operators, ignorance of the law is an excuse in Greensboro.

The Chief also makes a declaration about the operators of these businesses—that they are “not the criminal type.” Again, how does the Chief know that and why does it matter? Would Chief Scott have acted differently if he knew the operators to be “the criminal type”? What does that mean anyway? If someone is operating an illegal gambling parlor, what are they if not a criminal? Who is the “criminal type” in the Chief’s mind? It obviously matters in how he chooses to enforce the law.

More important though is what the Chief does not say. The Chief addresses the operators of these illegal games and his generous perceptions of them but he neglects to address what is, or should be, his number one priority: public safety. The Chief does not explain how his decision is in the interest of public safety. Because it is not.

Quite the opposite, the Chief’s decision jeopardizes public safety, as anybody could have known in advance from the multiple armed robberies of these gaming parlors prior to the Chief’s decision. And as was proven with yesterday’s shooting.

What in the world was the Chief thinking? He knowingly and willingly put the continuation of activities the police themselves described as illegal and dangerous ahead of public safety. Can that be anything other than negligence?

When the Chief announced his decision to allow these public safety threats to continue to operate, several had already been robbed. Their danger was known. As reported by WFMY, Guilford County Sheriff’s Attorney Rick Stevens said this at the time of the Chief’s announcement:

“Greensboro’s seen a pattern of violent crime that’s been associated with these businesses.”

Yet Chief Scott allowed them to stay open. Remember, it was not as if legal and legitimate businesses were being targeted. It was not as if the Chief was faced with the choice of whether or not to shut down grocery stores. The GPD acknowledges that these businesses are illegal, told the operators they are illegal and warned it will begin shutting them down soon because they are illegal, but let them stay open for 30 days all while knowing they are targets for robberies.

Compare the Chief’s decision to the position of the Guilford County Sheriff’s office.

“If any vender (sic) out there thinks they’re going to be closed down by GPD and move their game out into Guilford County, the answer is – that’s the wrong answer, because we will shut you down immediately, and we won’t give you 30 days written notice to comply,” said Sheriff’s Attorney Jim Secor.

The Chief’s decision was negligent (or worse) and someone got shot because of it. But that’s not the end of the story.

Once again our inept city council proves itself asleep at the wheel. Not one city council person has spoken up publicly about the Chief’s decision. It was not brought up at any meeting. No special session was called.

The current city council is one of the most uninformed, disinterested and unaware in years. And Greensboro pays a price for it.


4 Comments on "Police Chief negligent; City Council complicit"

  1. I think we need to allow businesses to go on the path to righteousness before delivering the deviled ham.

  2. It’s a safe bet that any popular but illicit business exists with some degree of police complicity, and the Chief’s claim that the owners of “fish table” games may not know their machines are illegal elicits at least a raised eyebrow. However, after submitting this week’s Yes Weekly article (for which I interviewed a pit boss at one such place), I pointed a DC-based friend with a personal and professional interest in police overreach and the increasing militarization of law enforcement at your article here, and he made the following comment. To be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me, but I think he has a damn good point, even if one can argue it should have been possible to warn them without giving them a thirty days grace period.

    “I’m not so sure I’d consider giving operators thirty days to get their ducks in a row and peaceably close down before police raids is even such a bad idea. The scope of the problem may be quite large, thuggish police maneuvers in residential areas are very unsafe, and, in a cost construct, I am certain allowing for businesses to honorably bow out of the situation is a much cheaper idea for taxpayers.”

    We all may chuckle at “honorably bow out,” but at least some of us ought to be troubled by the prospect of the GPD attempting 37 coordinated heavily armed raids, on establishments that are sometimes in residential neighborhoods and are regularly patronized by immigrants, the elderly and other folks who genuinely don’t realize they’re doing anything illegal.

    Having spent almost twelve hours in a Fish Tables place before writing my April article, I can tell you that the clientele changed hourly. The joint might be full of meth heads, pimps and prostitutes after midnight, but college kids, Asian grandmothers, church ladies and senior citizens gambling with their social security were the norm during the daylight hours and early evening. We know what happens when SWAT teams break up suburban neighborhood poker games. Do you really expect them to be less trigger-happy when raiding these places?

  3. Thanks for commenting, Ian. I don’t find your (or your sources) premises sound. I think they amount to false choices. You expect the gaming parlors that don’t shut down to be raided by trigger happy SWAT teams? Given that the Chief of Police has handled these businesses with kid gloves so far, a sudden violent turn would be a surprise.

    And, 30 days is required to allow these operations to bow out gracefully? Another false choice. How about 24 hours to bow out gracefully? Turn out the lights, lock the doors. You’re done. That doesn’t take 30 days. The only thing 30 days provides is a little more time for operators to line their pockets. Let’s get real.

    — Roch

  4. Well, if you knew what i nude youd think twice about where you chewd your cabbage. Fact of the matter is billy jones done shut them down and that’ll be all for that. Now, if fish jump in the boat thats different but i dont reckon they will cuz billy got the aquaponic hydro efficiency engine gassed up like an idea for life. Billy has solutions even though you dont see it.

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