Skip to comments.CHIEF GREENBERG RETIRES
Posted on 08/17/2005 7:37:33 AM PDT by Big Steve
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Reuben M. Greenberg was hired in 1982 to run a police department dispirited by the suicide of the previous chief in a city struggling with racial tension and high crime rates.
In the more than 23 years that followed, Greenberg turned the Charleston Police Department into a national model. In the process, he became a celebrity and a source of pride for the city, though he had his share of critics.
Mayor Joe Riley, who hired Greenberg, announced the chief's retirement Tuesday on the steps of Charleston's new municipal building, which was named earlier this year in Greenberg's honor.
The announcement came one week after the mayor ordered Greenberg to take two weeks off and get a medical examination, following an incident Aug. 7 in which Greenberg angrily confronted a West Ashley woman who had called 911 to report his erratic driving.
Riley revealed that Greenberg resigned Thursday after his doctor, Allan Rashford, recommended he step down for medical reasons. The mayor didn't share the news, not even with City Council members, until Tuesday, though rumors had begun to swirl.
"I think we're all waiting with bated breath because we really don't know," said police Lt. Harold Hill, who was waiting to hear the announcement Tuesday along with dozens of officers.
"I waited in order to do it with some appropriate ceremony," Riley said. "I wanted to make it happen with grace and dignity."
Riley and Greenberg cited the 62-year-old chief's problems with high blood pressure as the medical reason for his retirement.
Greenberg said other factors in his decision to retire were "old age" and a 40-year career in law enforcement. "I'm glad I could cap it off working in Charleston," he said.
Under a South Carolina retirement program, Greenberg has been collecting a pension since 2002, in addition to his $129,849 annual salary.
"The first thing I'm going to do for the next few months is I'm going to cool it," Greenberg said. He plans to spend summers at property that he and his wife, Sarah, own in North Carolina, and the rest of the year in Charleston.
Councilmen Robert George, James Lewis and Larry Shirley suggested last week that Greenberg resign or consider retiring because of what they saw as a pattern of troubling behavior topped by the latest incident.
At 1:20 a.m. Aug. 7, according to a Charleston County sheriff's report, Katrina Small Epps was driving alone on S.C. Highway 61 when she told emergency dispatchers a police pickup truck was swerving on the road in front of her. Greenberg, who was driving the truck, heard the report on his police radio, stopped in the road with his emergency lights on and then confronted Epps and banged his fist on her car repeatedly while telling her not to call the police again, the report said.
On Tuesday, Epps said she thought the erratic driving incident prompted him to see a doctor. "It sounds like seeing the doctor helped him. I wish him the best of luck. I hope his health improves."
Riley said that, put in the perspective of history and time, he didn't think the event would affect Greenberg's record. More likely, said the mayor, Greenberg will be remembered for professionalizing the department and developing effective policing techniques.
Greenberg earned his many degrees in the San Francisco Bay area during the turbulent years marked by the Vietnam War and Civil Rights protests. He worked in law enforcement and also taught college-level public safety courses.
"When I was a student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Professor Greenberg was the guy in charge," said former Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose, a regular face on television during the investigation of sniper killings that terrified Washington in 2002.
"He gave me the right advice then, and continued to give me the right advice," Moose said. "He never really lectures. He works with you and teaches and learns."
Greenberg arrived in Charleston in 1982 from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, where he was deputy director of the standards and training division. He beat 170 applicants for the job, and Riley said Tuesday that "there wasn't a close second."
Black and Jewish, the Texas native was decidedly "from off" in Charleston, where there's a premium on lineage and tradition. National newspapers and magazines wrote stories about his hiring.
US magazine explained that "the appointment of a black police chief in Charleston, S.C., would naturally spark curiosity," in its 1982 article. The Los Angeles Times profiled Greenberg in 1983 under the headline: "A Black, Jewish, Roller-Skating Cop Brings A New Way to Fight Crime to the Old South."
It wasn't long, however, before Greenberg was making national headlines and going on television shows such as "60 Minutes" because of his crime-fighting methods and policies. He put Charleston officers on the street, on foot, bicycle and horseback, and combined tough policies on police use of force with aggressive crime-fighting tactics, such as questioning suspicious persons on the street and laying bait for thieves.
"I really found out what law enforcement was in 1982," said interim Chief Ned Hethington. "It was a new department, a new attitude."
Arrests soared, crime rates fell, and complaints about police brutality fell to nearly none, Riley said.
"Tough, Energetic Chief Making a Dent on Crime," The New York Times headlined a story about Greenberg in 1987. "Reuben Greenberg's methods actually get results," said Newsweek in 1990.
That same year, Greenberg went to Mobile, Ala., for six months to improve its police department. "Charisma is his middle name," cooed the Mobile Press Register, in a story about his successes there.
Greenberg, whose middle name is Morris, can be quirky and charming. In March he dressed in a full leprechaun costume for St. Patrick's Day, and he routinely played Santa Claus at Christmas. During his early years in Charleston, he often was seen out roller-skating with a police radio strapped to his side.
He also was known, in the nation's most polite city, for his hot temper and blunt comments. He cursed about City Council in front of a television camera, made controversial comments about black-on-black homicide and shoved a TV reporter while a camera was rolling, among other incidents.
Charleston resident Michelle Rivers, 24, who was shopping in the East Side neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, said she still is offended by a controversial comment Greenberg made last year about blacks killing blacks, for which he later apologized. "He just wasn't someone I wanted to run the department," Rivers said.
Leon Chisolm, 54, questioned some of Greenberg's priorities, such as sending city police to patrol Interstate 95 looking for drug dealers, but gave him a good overall grade. "He's done a tremendous job," Chisolm said, "and I feel safer now in Charleston because of him."
Letter from Chief Greenberg's physician to Mayor Riley (PDF)
Born: June 24, 1943, in Houston, the oldest of six children.
Education: San Francisco State University, anthropology; University of California, Berkeley, master's degree in police administration and master's degree in city planning.
Law enforcement: Started as a probation officer in Marin County, Calif. Worked in law enforcement and public service at several places, including San Francisco, Savannah, Opa-Locka, Fla., Orange County, Fla., and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Hired in Charleston in 1982.
1984 - After a rape is reported on the College of Charleston campus, Greenberg offers police foot and horse patrols.
1986 - Featured on "60 Minutes" as the "Roller Skating Police Chief."
1989 - In the eye of Hurricane Hugo, amid massive damage in the city and reports of looting, he radios his officers, "Don't make any arrests. Just beat 'em. We don't have any place to put them." After the storm, he was seen keeping the peace at emergency distribution centers.
1989 - Publishes "Let's Take Back Our Streets," a best-selling book acclaimed by law enforcement officers and others across the country.
1990 - Is asked to go on sabbatical to Mobile, Ala., a city with five times the crime rate as Charleston.
1991 - The Charleston Police Department is the first municipal police agency in the state to earn accreditation.
1991 - Turns down an offer to head the Chicago Police Department.
1991 - Named Justice Professional of the Year by the Southern Criminal Justice Association.
1996 - Steps in to help with police discipline in Indianapolis after a downtown street brawl that involved police officers.
1997 - Tells Mayor Riley that he will drop out of the running to head the District of Columbia Police Department.
2000 - An ambulance rushes Greenberg to a hospital after he becomes dizzy and vomits while driving in West Ashley. He spends two days in the hospital, having forgotten to take his high blood pressure medication for several days.
2001 - Sparks an angry buzz during a debate in Washington when he describes racial profiling as "a very, very small problem in law enforcement in our country" and an issue without "any appreciable impact on our criminal justice system."
2003 - Calls a war protester at Marion Square a "crazy fat lady," and later says, "I was wrong. She's not fat. She's obese. She's grossly obese."
2003 - Says it doesn't bother him that his crime-fighting style rubs some the wrong way. "If I wanted to be nice and get everybody to like me, I would have joined the fire department."
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And a general question; regarding the quote
"I think we're all waiting with bated breath because we really don't know."
Isn't that supposed to be "baited breath" ?
This guy is a treasure. A no-nonsense, no-BS, boundary-breaking kind of police chief. He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way down there because he refused to go all PC and coddle minorities and accord them perma-victim status.
Charleston is a fantastic place, and it sure looks like he contributed to making it even better for the past 23 years.
Now I feel old. He was new when I was stationed in Charleston, and now he's retiring.
Oh, I like this guy's attitude. We'll miss his kind when he retires.
I have a sneaky hunch we are going to find out before much longer that it isn't only high blood pressure but maybe either a brain tumor or Alzheimers. The erratic behaviour could be symtoms of either.
He has been the best thing for Charleston in a long time. He and Riley and a few others have done a lot to make this a better city and tri-county area.
I met him and Savannah and was impressed then, so were a lot of the guys on the force. He just automatically commanded respect and was a natural leader.
He is irreplaceable.
Yes he did. People may not always have agreed with him but he accomplished quite a bit.
He didn't play favorites and he didn't play the race card. He told it like it was.
No, I don't think it's alcoholism. That would have come to light sometime ago. The newspaper and tv would have sniffed it out. For all our being a big city, we are still small and politicians or prominent people can not get away with much at all.
If he had been drinking someone in any of the confrontations would have smelled it. Even Vodka has an odor.
Would have made an outstanding military commander.
I love this man. I just love this man.
You got that right. I hope whatever has knocked him off kilter is made better by his retirement. All I could think of that would cause him to have so many problems in such a short amount of time was booze, but I did not think (and sure hope it isn't) of a brain tumor.