Vernon Ancrum knew the nicknames black police officers who patrolled his black neighborhood in Charleston, S.C., in the 1950s and 1960s. The officers “could relate to the people and help control crime,” said Ancrum. The Charleston Post and Courier says that Ancrum, who still lives in his boyhood home, is hard-pressed to recall the name of a single black officer.
These days, race matters less in recruiting officers and assigning them to areas for patrol, said Police Chief Reuben Greenberg, who is black.
Two City Council members said an officer’s race should matter. Nine of Charleston’s 18 homicides were reported in a few areas last year. In all but one of the nine killings, the victims and suspects were black.
Of the 27 officers who regularly patrol the east and west sides, only two are black. Other black officers, however, are members of special units that patrol the housing projects and interact with residents and community leaders. By comparison, four black officers are among the 28 officers who regularly patrol the historic district, which is mostly white. In Charleston, 23 percent of the city’s 364 officers are black and 34 percent of the residents are black.
“We need supervisors to show the community progress in the police department,” said Cpl. Edward Singleton, 43. “The community needs to see young African-Americans in charge. Young criminals, who are 17 and 18 years old, feel they have nothing to live for. They don’t expect to see their 20th birthday. That should be of great concern for everyone.”
Greenberg, who assigns officers randomly, says that placing more black officers in black areas does not lead to lower crime rates. “I have not found a criminal who worried about the race of the police chief before he committed a crime,” said Greenberg. “It is a good thing to have black officers and Asian officers. But my idea of a good society is where people can walk the street without fear of being shot. You don’t have to have black officers to have that.”