As people of the Jewish faith celebrate the Hanukkah season, let’s pay proper tribute to some of the most rightfully honored and admired figures in law enforcement history who also happen to be Jewish.
1. RALPH FRIEDMAN: THE MOST DECORATED DETECTIVE IN NYPD HISTORY
Bald, bearded, musclebound, and covered from neck-to-knees with tattoos, veteran NYPD detective may hardly seem like “a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx,” but this neighborhood guy made it his business to clean up the very streets he grew up on during the city’s most notoriously crime-ravaged period.
The Investigation Discovery series Street Justice: The Bronx details Friedman’s 1970s stint on the force in New York’s deadliest precinct, which became infamously known as “Fort Apache.” As Friedman describes it, “New York was bad, but The Bronx was the worst. I loved it. It was like the Wild West, but 10 times worse.”
Charging upward from beat cop to detective in just five years, Friedman ultimately became the most decorated inspector in NYPD history. He broke records for arrests and convictions until a near-fatal car accident — caused, ironically, by another cop — put the brakes on his career.
As for his background, particularly in regard to the Irish-American stronghold that the NYPD had been for so long, Friedman said he never experienced anti-Semitism from fellow officers, noting: “People saw that I could handle myself, and I think I gave a better impression of Jews because I could handle myself.” [CrimeFeed]
2. REUBEN GREENBERG: CHARLESTON’S TOP COP & PIONEERING CRIMINOLOGIST
Reuben Greenberg was not only Charleston, South Carolina’s, first Jewish Chief of Police, he was also the city’s first top cop to be Black: Greenberg’s father was a Russian Jewish immigrant and his mother was African-American. Greenberg actively embraced his father’s faith.
Before joining the police, Greenberg graduated from San Francisco University with a degree in anthropology and got a master’s degree in city planning and public administration from UC Berkeley. He then went on to graduate from the FBI Academy.
Greenberg first served on the force in Savannah, Georgia, turning that city into a national model for top-notch police work. From there, Greenberg moved to Florida and became the state’s Deputy Director of Law Enforcement before relocating to Charleston in 1982, where he made history as the Chief of Police.
Among Greenberg’s first innovations was insisting that police actually work the streets — that is, he took them out of patrol cars and put them on foot, on bicycles, on horseback, and even on roller-skates. Positive public interactions, Greenberg believed, were of paramount importance.
In addition, Greenberg required every new cop to graduate from college. He also added K-9 units and had officers in uniform clean up street graffiti.
During Reuben Greenberg’s 23 years as police chief, Charleston’s population exploded by 64 percent, while its crime level simultaneously dropped 11 percent. He retired in 2005 and died at age 69 in 2014. [Charleston Post & Courier]
Born in the Bronx, Albert Seedman embodied a New York City “tough-guy” image early on. He wore sharp suits, chomped on cigars, talked hard, wasn’t afraid to use his fists, and he walked the streets like he owned them — so much so that many who saw Seedman assumed at first he was actually a Jewish gangster on the order of Bugsy Siegel or Meyer Lansky.
In fact, Seedman proved to be one of the NYPD’s most effective investigators, working the city’s most challenging and high-profile cases (including the Kitty Genovese murder) before achieving the rank of Chief of Detectives in 1971. He was the first Jewish officer to rise that high on the force, and the position was hard won.In retrospect, Seedman that, early on, “I didn’t get the choice assignments. I think because I was Jewish.” Regardless, Seedman booked enough perps and made enough charges stick that, by 1962, he’d become a captain.
Seedman courted controversy that same year after criminal Tony Dellernia had been picked up for a robbery in which two NYPD officers were killed.
After press photographers complained they hadn’t gotten a good shot of Dellernia, Seedman walked the suspect back out, yanked his head toward the camera, and violently held Tony up under the chin. Police brass royally chewed out Seedman for that one — but the public loved it.
The case that really made Seedman’s career, though, proved especially bizarre. In 1964, a woman driving on Brooklyn’s Belt Parkway fell prey to what seemed to be a sniper’s bullet. Police interviewed more than 2,400 people and continually found nothing.Noticing that the driver’s window was open and none of the other windows were shattered, Seedman came to believe the shooting was unintentional.
He looked into boat owners along the nearby Sheepshead Bay before finding one who said he’d been taking pot shots from a rifle at a floating beer can. The bullet ricocheted off the water’s surface and randomly hit the moving car. It had been a freak accident. From there, Seedman became the go-to mind on cases that baffled other detectives.
As Chief of Detectives, Seedman oversaw the city on the brink of collapse into financial ruin and chaotic crime. His tenure was not without low points, such as the massive police corruption exposed by whistleblower Detective Frank Serpico and a badly botched standoff at a Harlem mosque. He retired at the end of 1972 and died, at age 94, in 2013.
Generations of younger Jewish police officers credit Seedman as their inspiration to take up crime-fighting. Seedman took special pride in this, once noting: “They joined the force after reading about me in the papers.” [New York Times]
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Main photo: Albert Seedman (left) and Tony Dellarina [Wikipedia]