Reuben Greenberg

By:Marie McAden


Charleston police chief, Reuben Greenberg
Charleston’s first and only black police chief, Reuben Greenberg.

Name: Reuben Greenberg

Born: June 24, 1943

Died: Sept. 24, 2014

Background/significance: Charleston’s first and only black police chief, Reuben Greenberg gained national attention as a larger-than-life, crime-busting maverick in a city bound by tradition.

Hired in 1982 at a time when Charleston was struggling with racial tension and high crime rates, he immediately raised eyebrows as a black, Jewish, roller-skating cop leading an overwhelming white Southern police force.

To boost morale and bring professionalism to the troubled police department, Greenberg made it a requirement that all new hires have a four-year college degree. He added a K-9 bomb and drug unit, harbor patrol and crime lab and equipped his officers with running shoes to give them a better chance of apprehending suspects caught committing criminal acts.

As part of his groundbreaking crime-prevention tactics, he sent officers into the streets of Charleston on foot, bicycle, horseback and sometimes even on roller skates to get to know residents and establish a presence in the community. At the same time, he initiated tough policies on police use of force. His book, “Let’s Take Back Our Streets,” became a reference for police forces across the country.

Born in Houston, Texas, Greenberg was the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant father and an African-American mother. He received his BA degree at San Francisco State University and went on to earn two master’s degrees, one in public administration and the other in city planning, both from the University of California at Berkeley.

During his 40-year career, he taught college-level public safety courses and served with law enforcement agencies in California, Georgia and Florida before moving to South Carolina. He retired in 2005 after 23 years with the Charleston Police Department.

South Carolina connection: Greenberg was deputy director of the standards and training division for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement when he was hired as Charleston police chief, beating 170 applicants for the job.

His tenure as top cop raised the profile of the city and helped change policing across South Carolina. He was profiled in dozens of newspapers and magazines, appeared on television programs like “60 Minutes,” “Larry King Live” and “The Today Show,” and traveled extensively, speaking and teaching across the country. Although he received job offers from officials in major cities, he chose to stay in Charleston. After retiring, he moved to North Carolina but returned to the Holy City in his later years.

Charleston’s law enforcement municipal building is named in his honor.

Discover more: To learn more about Reuben Greenberg, ​click here

Related Content

Notable Names
​African-Americans with ties to South Carolina have made their mark on history, music, the arts, sciences, education, sports and more. Read on for more about these important figures.
Dr. M. Maceo Nance Jr.
Dr. M. Maceo Nance Jr. was a Columbia native and the first graduate to later serve as the president of South Carolina State University.
Mary McLeod Bethune
Discover the life of South Carolina educator Mary McLeod Bethune.