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North Charleston Police
Do you think that the North Charleston Police Department has taken appropriate steps towards reform a year after the Walter Scott shooting?

Reuben Greenberg Left Behind A Living Legacy
10/1/2014 4:46:28 PM

Reuben Greenberg

The Sept. 24 death of former Charleston Police Chief Rueben M. Greenberg came as an unwelcome though not unexpected surprise. Greenberg, 71, had suffered from Alzheimer's disease in recent years and had been living at a West Ashley nursing home. In 2005 after 23 years service Greenberg retired from the police department. He had been ordered by Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley to take a leave of absence. His controversial departure matched his 1982 arrival. In between, Greenberg upgraded the department in historic proportions.

Greenberg came to the Charleston Police Department after the suicidal death of Chief John Conroy. He met a department burdened with challenges. The city was predominantly Black, but its police department was overwhelmingly white. Complaints of police brutality were common. Nepotism and favoritism fuelled criticism of its recruitment and promotions policies.

Although well educated and experienced, Greenberg’s most obvious attributes, at least for many, was that he was Black and Jewish. Charleston City Councilman Robert Ford had lobbied Riley to hire a Black police chief. He had challenged Conroy’s administration for its promotions practices. Community meetings had been held to influence Riley’s decision.

Some thought Riley made a stroke of genius in hiring Greenberg. He satisfied Blacks and satiated whites who considered Greenberg’s Jewish background as a palatable alternative.

Among the rank and file in the police department, the new chief was met with ambiguity. Some fine officers left - Greenberg’s command style was one of unfaltering and unbiased direct responsibility - and some fine officers stayed.

Ronald Hamilton was among those who stayed. A sergeant when Greenberg arrived at the department, Hamilton eventually rose to the rank of major, second in command under Greenberg. He said without doubt, Greenberg left his mark at the department whose headquarters is named in his honor. A mark that also spread around the nation and world.

Though Greenberg held graduate and post graduate degrees from San Francisco State University, the University of California at Berkley and the FBI Academy, he always had a practical solution to problems most others thought were complex, Hamilton said.

“He was the best police chief I ever met,” said Hamilton whose role in the National Organization of Blacks Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) enabled him to interact with police chiefs from around the country.

Greenberg never settled for the remark, ‘There’s nothing we can do’ and as an eternal optimist often said even a peach grown in the shade ultimately would ripen. They were mottos Greenberg used in both fighting crime and nurturing young police officers, Hamilton said.

Greenberg assaulted the city’s crime and police department’s challenges with practicality and simplicity. He faced off with illegal drug dealers by positioning uniformed officers at locations known for drug trafficking and headed off potential juvenile offenders with a truancy/curfew program that picked up teens and adolescents and took them home or to schools.

Under threat of termination, he made officers file use of force reports any time force was used in confrontations with citizens and quelled domestic violence incidents by ordering his officers to force one of the combatants to leave the domicile. Believing most crime is committed by repeat offenders, Greenberg assigned an officer to challenge the parole and probation of convicted criminals.

“Greenberg was ahead of his time. He bragged that our department had officers from 48 states and five foreign countries,” said Hamilton. Greenberg actively recruited and promoted minorities, including women. Under his administration, Charleston Police Department had its highest percentage of minority officers, some 30 percent. Currently the department’s percentage of minority officers is about 17 percent. His upgrade of standards and qualifications made the department one of the nation’s most elite.

An innovator, Greenberg implemented dual purpose tools for law enforcement and public relations such as the department’s Harbor Patrol, Horse Patrol, crime lab, Police Athletic League’s boxing club, graffiti and vacant properties clean up crews.

Other police department’s heard of Greenberg’s successes and sought him out to help them replicate those successes. That’s perhaps Greenberg’s greatest contribution, Hamilton said. Greenberg initiated a ‘What Works” conference that taught his methods to officers around the country. Those officers, who took the information back to their respective jurisdictions, and that training are the basis for Greenberg’s ongoing living legacy, Hamilton said.

Despite much criticism, Greenberg left an indelible mark on the city’s law enforcement history. Greenberg was an innovator who brought effective policing programs to the department. His peers consider him an innovative, aggressive policeman who had a positive impact on the city.

In addition to the City of Charleston, Greenberg leaves to mourn him his wife; Sarah Horne Greenberg, two sisters and two brothers.

Visitor Comments

Submitted By: Gary foote Submitted: 2/12/2015
For whatever reason, just thought about Reuben...been years. We were roommates in Yorktown, va when we were attending Recruit enlistment school with the USCGR for two weeks in the late 70's. At the time I was a police officer with NYPD and I believe he was a major in the Atlanta PD. Anyway, I am sorry to hear of his passing..he was a pleasant man and we shared an interesting and enjoyable challenge in learning about military life. Developing and passing from Alzheimer's is such a shame and sad way to meet your end. God Bless him and may he rest in peace, sounds as though he did a great job for Charleston in upgrading and bringing its police department into the 21st century.

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