Charles Sumner Smith was one of four children born to Andrew G. and Catherine Smith in Oberlin, Ohio on June 21, 1869. Charles attended the Oberlin College Preparatory Department (comparable to a modern day high school) and the Oberlin Business College where he enrolled in a “Short Hand Course.” His first employment was with a real estate dealer. He then took the Civil Service test for the Cleveland Police Department where he placed fourth on the selection list and was appointed a Patrolman, Badge Number 6, on January 28, 1897.
Officer Smith served as a beat Officer but was soon recognized for his excellent stenographer skills and was appointed a Probation Officer in Juvenile Court on May 7, 1903, one of only three Officers in the First Precinct selected as “Official Fathers” by the Court.
He was assigned as Secretary to then Police Chief George E. Corner. He was promoted to Detective on May 1, 1918 and held the position of Secretary under five successive Police Chiefs.
He was transferred to the Safety Department in 1922 by Director Thomas C. Martinec and given the title of Secretary of Police with the rank and salary of a Detective (a Detective’s salary was the same as a Uniform Lieutenant). When Edwin D. Barry became Safety Director, he convinced City Council to establish the “official” positions of Secretary of Police and Secretary of Fire. He appointed Officer Smith on June 5, 1923 to serve as Secretary of the Police and Fire Departments with a salary commensurate to that of a Police Captain. In that position he was the third highest ranking member of the Police Department and was described in old reports as the Comptroller as he was responsible for overseeing the payrolls of the Police and Fire Departments.
Charles S. Smith was so respected by his peers that he was elected by them to serve as the Secretary for both the Police and Fire Pensions Funds until he retired.
Officer Smith married Katie B. Harrison. They had one son, Harrison McKoin Smith, who died on April 21, 1921 at the age of 20 of tonsillitis. Smith retired from the Police Department after 35 years of service on May 15, 1932 and died on August 16, 1935. He was recognized by the Citizens League in their 1926 publication “Greater Cleveland” for his “…long and efficient service.” Upon his retirement, the Cleveland Plain Dealer referred to him as “…an unostentatious, gracious, and efficient public servant.” He was again recognized by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1969 in their series titled “Memorable Negroes in Cleveland’s Past” for advancing so quickly through the ranks of the Police Department and being the first Black Officer to achieve such a high rank as that of Secretary of Police.
His wife, Katie, a former teacher in the Cleveland Public School system, died in Cleveland on March 30, 1945 at the age of 75. She was buried in Lake View Cemetery with Charles and their son.
Written by Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum volunteer Commander Robert Cermak, Ret.