History in the Cincinnati Police Department

History of African-American Police Officers in the Cincinnati Police Department

African-Americans have been members of the Cincinnati Police Department for at least 120 years. Some have compiled outstanding records; while others have been average police officers. African-Americans soon found out that their lot, as a police officer was an unhappy one. Barred from working in most white residential areas, or with a white partner, they soon discovered yet another taboo, and that was promotion to higher ranks. For 77 years no African-American Police Officer was promoted above the rank of detective. On September 15, 1949, Patrolman Cleveland Laws was promoted to Sergeant. He also became the first African-American lieutenant on March 1, 1953.

The earliest record of an African-American on the force is contained in the Police Department’s Annual Report for 1872. Although their names and jobs are not listed, the report shows eight African-Americans on the 291 man force. Generally, they were relegated to more menial jobs such as stationhouse keepers. Cincinnati’s first African-American Policeman was appointed in 1884 as a political joke. African-American historian, Wendell Dabney said in his 1926 book (Cincinnati Black Citizen), “The Democrats took over the city administration that year and to spite the Republicans, put a black man, Henry Hagerman, on the force.”
Other than this brief mention by Dabney, Henry Hagerman remains a man of mystery. Police personnel records dating back to 1886 fail to list him. The Cincinnati Division of Vital Statistics has neither his birth nor death certificate on file. Nevertheless, Hagerman was an authentic pioneer in whose footsteps countless African-American Police Officers would follow.

   James A. Alien was Cincinnati’s second African-American police officer. Alien took the Oath of Office as a patrolman on June 19, 1886. He became the first African-American detective on the Cincinnati Police Department and worked in the area east of Broadway, between East Sixth and East Seventh Streets, known as “Buck Town.” Buck Town was inhabited by a mixture of blacks and whites and Alien patrolled this beat along with another African-American police officer named Miller. They cleaned up Buck town by sending most of its tough men and women either to the Workhouse or the hospital.

   Dabney wrote in his book many years later, “Any policeman who ventured into Buck Town carried not only his club, blackjack and gun, but even his life in his hands.” “Alien laid around that district like Grant around Richmond.” Alien soon received more far-ranging assignments. In 1890 he helped to arrest three men in Cleves, Ohio. The following year, he journeyed to Chattanooga, Tennessee, Louisville and Georgetown, Kentucky on cases. In 1894, he was nominated for detective but higher authorities did not approve the nomination. Finally, following a desperate political fight, Alien was nominated and approved for the job at a salary of $1,200.00 a year. He took the oath as Cincinnati’s first African-American detective on April 6, 1895; 44 years after the police department’s detective division had been established. Alien’s salary was raised to $1,400.00 per year on March 27, 1900 on recommendation of the Mayor.

Other African-American pioneers followed.

Richard A. Reed became known as one of the brightest detectives in the Cincinnati Police Department. He became a substitute patrolman on March 27, 1895, and a patrolman on August 21st of that same year. Known for his bravery, he was promoted to detective on January 1, 1905 and later helped apprehend a suspect wanted for murder.

Frank A. Hall, patrolman, court officer and detective, was born on April 1, 1870 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. A former waiter, he became a Substitute patrolman on June 15, 1897 and a patrolman August 10, 1898. Appointed an acting detective in 1916, he remained in the detective bureau until his retirement in 1926. Frank A. Hall was elected

Cincinnati’s First African-American City Councilman, under the “Proportional Representation System” of voting in 1931 and served through 1933. While Frank Hall and John Thomas were Detectives Downtown, most of the African-American policemen were assigned to District Seven where the majority of African-American citizens lived.

   Charles P. Miles, one of Cincinnati’s first mounted patrolmen, was born May 24, 1876 in Marietta, Ohio. A messenger at the Hamilton County Circuit Court for five years, he became a substitute patrolman on January 13, 1905. Appointed a patrolman later that year, he and 12 other men were assigned to Cincinnati’s first mounted police unit the following year. The patrolman’s horses were stabled at Lincoln Avenue and Montfort Street. Miles retired on October 1, 1947, after 42 years of service. In his long career, there wasn’t a single demerit on his service record. He died September 4, 1961 at the age of 85. He was the last of Cincinnati’s original mounted policemen.

Olin C. Wilson, born April 29, 1892, in Woodville, Georgia, was the second Cincinnati African-American police killed in the line of duty. Appointed a substitute patrolman on March 17, 1927, though off duty, he investigated a complaint that a John Coverson had fired shots through a window of the Kenton Street Boarding House where they both lived. When Wilson tried to question Coverson, he was shot in his stomach, left leg and right arm. Wilson died of his wounds two days later at General Hospital. He was 35 years old.

   John “Pop” Toney was born in Covington, Kentucky on September 19, 1893 and worked as an expressman and coal and iceman before becoming a substitute patrolman on August 3, 1925. He became a patrolman in 1926. When Toney joined the department there were only six African-Americans serving on the force. With his class, seven more (Toney, Robert Wilson, Samuel Anderson, Bill Cox, Howard Hill, Willard Stargel and Edward Nelson) increased the number to 13.

   John W. Thomas became a substitute patrolman on January 22, 1901. He became a patrolman in 1902 and was appointed an acting detective at $1,200.00 yearly in 1907. In 1914, his salary was raised to $1,500.00. He retired in 1926. During his police career, a Cincinnati publication called Thomas “One of the brightest African-American man on police duty in Cincinnati.”

   Novella D. Noble, Police Specialist Noble was also one the first African-American female Cincinnati Police Officer. Police Specialist Noble was appointed to the Cincinnati Police Department September 1, 1947 and was promoted to Specialist on January 2, 1966. Specialist Noble served in the Youth Aid Bureau and was in charge of the Missing Persons Phase of the Bureau. Was noted for doing an excellent job of investigating and meeting the public. Specialist Noble was highly respected by all of supervisors and co-workers. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati (Cum Laude); she was the first to retire. After retiring she became a Mary Kay Consultant and Director.

   Lillian A. Grigsby, Policewoman Grigsby one of the first African-American female Cincinnati Police Officer. Policewoman Grigsby

was appointed to the Cincinnati Police Department as a Recruit on September 1, 1947. She was promoted to Policewoman on December 1, 1947, and served in Youth Aid Bureau. Her badge number was P641. Grigsby was noted for always doing an exceptional job, and highly respected and liked by her supervisors and co-workers. In 1965, she left the Cincinnati Police Department to work to work with the Federal Experimental Program. In 1969 she became a Hamilton County Felony Probation Officer, where she eventually became a supervisor. During her work she also completed her Master’s Degree at Xavier University. She retired from the Probation Department in 1982. For eight years she served as a professor at the University of Cincinnati teaching Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice, Corrections and Counseling Techniques. Grigsby’s uncle was Patrolman Olin Wilson; he was killed in the line of duty on March 17, 1927, he was 35 years old.