GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller is making recruitment of more diverse police officers a goal. However, his effort long preceded his him when 54 years ago, the Greenville Police Department hired one of their first black police officers, Eustace Bennett.
After returning home from World War II, Bennett worked as one of the first black firemen at the Donaldson Center.
“I never thought I’d be a police officer,” Bennett, who’s now 93, said.
In 1963, his former chief at Donaldson encouraged him to apply for Greenville’s police department.
“He said there hadn’t been a black to qualify,” Bennett said.
Bennett passed his tests and interviews and was hired in 1963. However, he says the mayor told him to not go to work until they found him a partner which they did by the end of the year. Bennett and his partner were sworn in the first of January 1964.
Bennett worked foot patrol throughout downtown neighborhoods, including Main, Spring, and Broad Streets until he and his partner were finally given a patrol car.
Bennett says he remembers the worst cases he ever covered including a missing baby on Haynie Street.
“We moved the mattress off the bed and there was the little baby…He had killed the baby,” Bennett said.
But, he also remembers the good times while policing.
“There were so many people I could help,” Bennett said.
People he would try to help even when he wasn’t met with kindness.
“We would go to some houses where they were white, and they didn’t want me to come in,” Bennett said.
However, he tried not to ever bring the difficulties on the job home to his wife, Georgia.
“A lot of times he wouldn’t tell me because he didn’t want to worry me,” said Mrs. Bennett, his wife of 69 years.
In current society, tensions between police officers and the community have escalated. Bennett says he sees differences in officers now than when he was working.
“The first thing they’ll do is grab their gun…And we never did that,” Bennet said. “We would try to solve a problem rather than create one.”
He says he believes there’s extra training officers could do to help.
“I say every police officer should at least have a course in psychology because we have a lot of people out here who have a mental problem,” Bennett said.
He also agrees with increasing diversity within the police department.
Currently out of the 186 officers within the Greenville Police Department, nearly 10 percent of the officers are black, three percent are Hispanic, and Asian officers make up one percent of the department.
“The department is better situated if we reflect the composition of our community, and we are nowhere near reflecting the composition of our community, so it’s been a priority for us,” Chief Miller said.
It’s a path that was pioneered by Officer Bennett.
“I think I weathered the storm,” Bennett said.
Last month, Bennett received an award at the MLK Legacy Gala honoring his life of service.
Bennett left the police department in 1988. After that, he started working as a bailiff for the county judge.
The Greenville Police Department will be accepting applications for new recruits starting Sunday. More information is available here.