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Chief Charles Scriven: Florida Law Enforcement Pioneer

September 16, 2021

By David Brand
Law Enforcement Coordinator, Florida Sheriffs Association 

After completing his enlistment in the Army, Charles Scriven joined the Jacksonville Police Department in 1955. Rising through the ranks, sometimes under difficult circumstances, he was appointed as the first African-American Chief in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in 1973 after the charter government of Duval County was formed in 1968. He went on to serve in two other criminal justice agencies in Tallahassee. 

In 1955, we were still recovering from World War II and the Korean War. American technology and culture were changing in ways that were never imagined in the 1940s. The “I Like Ike” campaign, referring to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, had successfully placed the General in the White House. The USS Nautilus, the United States’ first nuclear-powered submarine, was launched, and the Salk’s polio vaccine was eradicating the polio virus. On the cultural front, Ms. Rosa Parks had been arrested in Montgomery Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus bringing attention to discrimination and injustice that had been, for the most part, simply ignored before. That same year, Charles Scriven joined the Jacksonville Police Department beginning a public service career that would continue until 2003 at four different agencies.

The early years

Florida became a United States Territory in 1821 when President James Monroe appointed Andrew Jackson the Commissioner and Provisional Governor. The city of Jacksonville, named after the Provisional Governor, was founded in June of 1822. Almost immediately, a police force was created. In April, 1870, Jacksonville held elections that resulted in victories for Reconstruction Republicans and black Freedmen. Dave Pettis became the first African-American elected to the office of the Board of Police Commissioners. Five black police officers, two black jailors, and two black constables were also elected. Also, in 1878, George H. Mays, the city’s first black police sergeant, became the second black town marshal.

In May, 1887, a new Jacksonville city charter resulted in an integrated government. Black citizens filled the positions of five of the aldermen, the municipal judge, 15 of the 23 police officers, two police sergeants and the Chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners.

On May 16, 1889, for reasons that have been lost to history but can be speculated, the state legislature passed House bill number 4 that gave Governor Francis P. Fleming, from Jacksonville, the power to abolish the elected town government and appoint officials of his own choosing. For the next 61 years the Jacksonville police would remain segregated.

You might ask, “how did this happen?” Police departments are instruments of public policy. Public policy is guided by the legislative branch following the direction provided by their constituents. At the time, this was the cultural norm. One example can be found in a 1940s Florida Sheriff’s Manual, published by the Florida Institute of Government and the State Auditing Department, in relevant part:

Chaining Races Together It is unlawful for the sheriff to chain, handcuff, or otherwise fasten white prisoners to colored prisoners, either in jail or while they are in the custody of the officer handling them. A violation of this provision subjects the officers doing so to fine or imprisonment and removal from office. It goes on to cite several Florida statutes and a Florida Attorney General Opinion. Even if thought unjust, sheriffs must have been reluctant to oppose the legislature and risk being removed from office.

Political changes began

Hayden Burns was a shrewd politician. He observed that large numbers of the white business community were gradually moving out of the city and relocating south of the St. Johns River and the beaches. This left a large portion of the voters within the city African-Americans. So, he campaigned to that base promising to build a public swimming pool and hire black officers. He was elected Mayor of Jacksonville in 1949 and subsequently was re-elected four more times. In 1964, he ran for governor and was elected to a two-year term. This short term was due to the cycle of gubernatorial elections being changed so as not to coincide with presidential election years.

The community received the swimming pool and the officers. On July 16, 1950, the first contemporary black officers were hired. They were Henry Harley, Edward Hickson, Alvin James, Beamon Kendall, Marion Massey, and Charlie Sea. Instead of being trained at the Jacksonville Police Academy, they received their training at a separate facility. Mr. Scriven was hired in 1955 and was also trained at the separate facility. He was assigned to Precinct #3 that was housed in the Wilder Park Civic Club building that was later moved to the Blodgett Homes Housing Project located at 1201 North Davis St. At the time, Precinct #3 had 27 officers along with white supervisors. The officers, seeing increasing juvenile delinquency, jumped out front of the issue by forming a baseball team for kids in 1957 that segued into the Police Athletic League.

When Mr. Scriven asked to be a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, the police department social and collective bargaining organization, he was denied membership.

In 1958, Governor Leroy Collins appointed Dale Carson, an FBI agent assigned to the Jacksonville Field Office, as Duval County sheriff. This occurred after the governor had suspended Al Cahill after a year of grand jury investigations into bribery, gambling, illegal liquor sales, and incompetence. At the time, the Sheriff’s Office was referred to as the Duval County Road Patrol.

The Bold New City of the South

The effort to consolidate the City of Jacksonville and Duval County began in the early to mid 1960s. In August of 1967, a consolidation vote was held with 65% of the votes being cast in favor. Both governments merged in 1968 creating a single entity governing all of Duval County with the exception of the beach communities: Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and Baldwin. Sheriff Dale Carson was successful in merging the two competitive agencies into the Office of Sheriff, Jacksonville Police.

Sheriff Dale Carson

Charles Scriven had been promoted to sergeant and lieutenant while at the Jacksonville Police Department. Along the way, he received a Bachelor of Science degree from Edward Waters College in 1962. In 1973, under Sheriff Carson, he was promoted to the rank of chief and assigned to the newly created Community Relations Unit with the responsibility of maintaining closer lines of communication between the black community and the sheriff’s office making him the first black chief in the Office of Sheriff, Jacksonville police. In 1975 he earned a Master of Arts degree from Stetson University, retired from the sheriff’s office and was appointed as the first African-American Parole Commissioner by Governor Reuben Askew. After retiring from the Parole Commission in 1987, he was appointed to the Florida Division of Alcohol and Tobacco until his retirement in 2003 at the rank of Major.


The Reverend Charles Scriven resides in Tallahassee. In 2019, the president of the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police traveled to Tallahassee to invite Mr. Scriven to Jacksonville for a formal induction into the FOP and to receive a public apology for the decades-long failure to admit and accept him into the organization.

On September 13, 2021, Florida Sheriffs Association Executive Director Steve Casey, acting on behalf of our Florida sheriffs, presented Mr. Scriven with the Florida Sheriffs Association Distinguished Service Award in Tallahassee for his lifetime of achievements.

Executive Director Steve Casey presenting the Distinguished Service Award to Charles Scriven

View Mr. Scriven’s formal induction into the Fraternal Order of Police ceremony. Mr. Scriven is shown from 30:17 – 51:11.