Black Jewish History Month: Reuben Morris Greenberg

Today in Black Jewish History Month, Reuben Morris Greenberg.

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Reuben Morris Greenberg was the first Black police chief of Charleston, South Carolina, and known for being an innovative criminologist. He was police chief there from 1982 until his retirement in 2005.

Originally from Texas, Greenberg is Black and also an Ashkenazi Jew, the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant father and an African-American mother. He converted to Judaism at age 26.

Greenberg received his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from San Francisco State University in 1967, and earned master’s degrees in public administration and city planning from University of California, Berkeley in 1969 and 1975. He is also a graduate of the FBI Academy.

He taught sociology as an Assistant Professor at California State University, political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and criminal justice at Florida International University.

He served as the Undersheriff of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department in Savannah, Georgia, and he was a major with the city’s police department. In Florida, he was Chief of Police at Opa-Locka and Chief Deputy Sheriff of Orange County, rising to Deputy Director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He arrived in Charleston as Chief of Police in 1982.

In the words of Charleston’s The Post and Courier reporter David Slade, he “turned the… Police Department into a national model. In the process, he became a celebrity and a source of pride for the city ….”

Greenberg told his cops that their job was not to punish (that was up to the courts), but to make arrests, and in order to do that they had to be on good terms with the citizens. So he put his cops out on the streets, not in cars. They walked, rode bicycles and horses, and were accessible to “normal people,” who might not want to call or visit headquarters.

He also required that every cop earn a bachelor’s degree, whereas when he arrived at the department not all had even graduated from high school. He added a K-9 bomb and drug-sniffing unit, a harbor patrol, and a crime lab to the police department. He had a team of officers remove graffiti the moment it appeared, sending a message that the city belonged to the police, not the vandals.

It worked, and Greenberg became a media celebrity. The Los Angeles Times headlined its profile, “A Black, Jewish, Roller-Skating Cop Brings A New Way to Fight Crime to the Old South.”

Charleston’s population increased 64% during the time Greenberg was chief, while crime decreased 11 percent.Greenberg retired in 2005 after over 23 years.

Greenberg was named Justice Professional of the Year in 1991 by the Southern Criminal Justice Foundation, received the Foundation for Improvement of Justice 1989 Achievement Award and the Free Spirit Award from the Freedom Forum in 1994 for distinguished success in fighting crime.

This is Black Jewish History Month at MaNishtana’s Musings.


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