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Charlie Price, Rochester's first Black police officer, dies at 98

Rochester Police Captain Charlie Price, flanked by Mayor Lovely Warren and his wife, the late Pauline Price, at a 200th RPD anniversary event in December 2019.
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Rochester Police Captain Charlie Price, flanked by Mayor Lovely Warren and his wife, the late Pauline Price, at a 200th RPD anniversary event in December 2019.

Charles Henry “Charlie” Price, the first Black man to serve as a Rochester police officer, died Monday at the age of 98.

His death was announced by Mayor Lovely Warren, who said in a statement that she was “filled with great sadness” when she learned that he had died and called his career, in which he retired as a captain, “remarkable and historic.”

“On behalf of the citizens of Rochester, I extend my deepest condolences to Captain Price’s family, friends, and colleagues,” she said. “We are eternally grateful for his service and for leading the way for others to follow.”

Price joined the force in 1947 after taking a civil service exam on something of a dare, according to a profile on Price published in the Democrat and Chronicle in 1967.

He was said to have been shooting the breeze with some pals in the Third Ward when the subject of police officers came up. The Rochester Police Department was hiring. One of his friends, a young Black man, reportedly spat contemptuously, “They don’t want us in the department. Openings for colored guys? Ha!”

It was then, Price told the newspaper, that he bristled at the thought of being shut out of the profession. He was already employed as a janitor at Eastman Kodak Co.'s Camera Works, a job he landed after returning home after being stationed with the Army in Europe during World War II, but he relished the challenge.

“I think I’ll take that civil service exam, and pass it,” he was quoted as saying.

“Man, you got to be outta your mind,” Price recalled one of his friends saying. “They’ll never take you.”

Take Price, the department did for $1,600 a year -- $1,000 less than he was making at Kodak. And Price, the article noted, “took his share of abuse and maybe more” as he rose through the ranks from a patrol officer to captain by the time he retired in 1985.

Four years before his retirement, Price earned a departmental Medal of Valor for his part in pulling a wounded officer out of a holed-up bank robber's line of fire on Thurston Road. Price reportedly commandeered a city paving truck, and he and a captain and a lieutenant backed the truck up to their stricken colleague under heavy fire.

"I said, 'Holy God,' I'm back overseas," Price recalled saying during an interview in 1996 with the Democrat and Chronicle for an article on diversity in the ranks of Rochester police. "It was the only time in my career I was nervous and scared."

When the city two years ago forged ceremonial swords in honor of the Police Department’s 200th anniversary, Warren presented one to Price. It was inscribed: “Captain Charles Price — Service — December 1947 to March 1985 — First of Many.”

His distinction as the first Black officer was a source of pride for Price, but he said 20 years into his career that references to his race in connection with promotions or other forms of public recognition he received gnawed at him.

“It was okay in the beginning,” Price told the Democrat and Chronicle in that 1967 profile. “But I’m just plain Det. Sgt. Charles Price, period.”

Price was predeceased by his wife of 68 years, Pauline Price, last year. The couple had two daughters and four grandchildren.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at