Changing of the guard
Charleston’s newest chief of police, Luther Reynolds, began his career in law enforcement three decades ago in the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland. From the time of his hiring in 1988, Reynolds spent 29 years with Montgomery County, ending his tenure as the assistant chief of police in 2017.
Described by Mayor John Tecklenburg as having a “servant’s heart,” Reynolds was selected out of a pool of almost 100 candidates earlier this year to take over the reins at CPD after the retirement of former Chief Gregory Mullen. Since starting in April, the department’s new leader has had three months to get his feet wet in Lowcountry waters and settle into his new residence on Daniel Island.
Reynolds recently talked to The Daniel Island News about his plans for locally based Team 5, his goals for the department’s future, the city’s Illumination Project, and why he and his family decided to call Daniel Island home.
Daniel Island News (DIN): Since taking over as chief of police in April, what have you learned about the Charleston community?
Chief Luther Reynolds (CLR): A lot. I’m still learning a lot. I’m learning Charleston has a great group of communities and they’re very engaged. They care about the citizens and they care about public safety. There’s a very strong faith community here— Christians, Muslims, Jews, there’s a great representation and connection among the faith communities. I’ve been very blessed to be out and among a lot of different people who really have a lot of respect for and engagement with the police department.
DIN: What would you say has been the biggest challenge so far?
CLR: For me, personally, it’s just rolling my sleeves up and building relationships and getting to know the troops and the communities. It takes time to do that, it takes hard work. It just takes an effort and it’s going to be on-going. The more people that I get to know, the more that I know that I need to know. I’ve taken a conscious effort to try to get out into a lot of different communities, to go to roll calls to spend time with the troops, to get out on the bike, to get out on foot, and get out when we have community events and different incidences, and to play an intimate roll in what we’re doing in the department. It’s been enjoyable, it’s been challenging, it’s been very rewarding, even in the short amount of time that I’ve been there.
As an agency, we have ongoing work that we need to do in traffic and in our efforts to keep the city safe from crime. At the same time, as we police our communities, we need to do it in a way that we’re treating people with dignity and respect. Three things to me are very important: hiring the right people, spending a significant amount of investment in training them and developing our organization, and having a culture of accountability. We have a lot of work to do. One of the downsides to such a strong economy is there’s more jobs than there are people. That affects the workforce in not only private industry, but also public safety. We want to fill all of our positions, but we’re very selective and we’re very careful in who we hire. That’s a big effort that is ongoing.
DIN: A local media report described your use of “progressive” tactics in policing. Can you elaborate on that further? What does that mean?
CLR: Honestly, I couldn’t tell you…What I believe is that we have a profession and we constantly learn to do things better. Whether it be through equipment, through tactics, through strategies, through training, there’s always ways to get better…Even if we do it really well, we can always do it even better. How can we better and more effectively build relationships with our community, particularly those communities that don’t traditionally trust the police? How can we more effectively police our schools? And there’s a lot of ways that we can do that more effectively. How can we more effectively fight crime, but do it in a way that we’re treating people with dignity and respect? You can go on and on with things like traffic, domestic violence, homicides, robberies, car thefts, thefts from auto. There’s always different techniques, different technologies, different methods that we can utilize that can have an even greater yield and outcome.
DIN: With the growth Daniel Island and the Cainhoy Peninsula areas are seeing, what are the plans for Team 5?
CLR: The Cainhoy area, Clements Ferry Road is to get up to 35,000 people in population. Right now, they have a fraction of that and that’s going to happen in a fairly short period of time. They just built three new schools, and that’s just the beginning of what’s to come. There’s a whole myriad of challenges that we’re going to face, and that we’re already beginning to see. And, with that, we’ve got to look at things like response times, where our facilities need to be located, we’ve already been in conversations about that with the fire department. The fire department needs new facilities and it needs to expand. We’re kind of connected with the fire department and the city in this conversation about where we should be located as that grows out.
Facilities is just one area. What about the staffing levels? We have to look at the entire city. What are our priorities with crime, traffic, schools, outreach, and a variety of other things. In that equation is things like Team 5, that are going to have an explosive growth in population. And, although the crime rate is low, we need to keep it that way. We have to focus on all those areas in Team 5 and make sure that we have a footprint, because they’re on an island away from the rest of the city. Strategically, we have to make sure that we have proper resourcing in those areas, and frankly, we’re going to have to grow as an agency.
DIN: Why have you expressed interest in further exploring the Illumination Project?
CLR: I think the Illumination Project is a beautiful thing, but it’s only as good as we make it. We have to continue to focus on outcomes and the Illumination Project has identified a number of strategies. A couple of the most recent ones that we were able to begin that are in the process that were very high profile priorities— one was to do a police advisory council and we started doing that earlier this month. The members were selected and we met and we actually are doing some training in the month of August, some ride-alongs, and we’re going to continue our meetings in September, and that’s on its way. Another strategy that came out of the Illumination Project that we’re very excited to be a part of is doing an audit of our data, which I think is a best practice. It just makes sense that we should look at our data from a variety of different angles, and an audit enables you to do that in an objective way. You have an outside entity coming in, that is not biased in any way, that can look at our data, and more importantly, it can help us focus our efforts in a way that is consistent with best practices.
DIN: As you have mentioned, there are some communities that have a distrust of the police. Would you say that is understandable for those communities?
CLR: Absolutely. I don’t know if I would use “distrust,” but that’s not a bad word. This is not unique to Charleston. It’s a national challenge. A lot of times, the communities that need the police the most, often trust the police the least. I’ll use an example that is not as prevalent, but where I came from in Maryland, there’s a large immigrant community, a large Latino community. That community is scared to death right now. They’re afraid that they’re going to get deported, they’re afraid that when they see anybody in uniform that they’re ICE, and that they’re coming to get them, and that they’re going to be separated from their community. So, we had to work really hard with the Latino community, in particular. I would go to them with leaders in the community who knew me. They would introduce me, and we would build a rapport, and they would relax. They would say “look at the patch on his uniform. This is not ICE, repeat after me, this is not ICE. This is the police department, they are your friend, they’re here to help you.” Through basic things like that, we would build a relationship and we would be better able to police those communities. They never reported crimes because they were afraid to report crimes, even things like domestic violence, robberies, their kids getting bullied and beat up, public intoxication, quality of life stuff, gangs. We had to work really hard to develop relationships with those communities in order to better protect them. Some of those people came from places where the police were very corrupt and in some cases were very brutal.
Similarly, here, if you really look at the big picture of slavery, if you look at 50 years ago, how Charleston was policed at the time, there’s people here who have had bad experiences with police.
If you think about what the police do, sometimes we write tickets, sometimes we make arrests, sometimes we have to use force, if it’s appropriate. But we have to be accountable to our communities, and we have to be professionals, and we do have to work with those communities who are very much afraid. And not just of the police, but there’s communities here where drugs are prevalent, and there’s an environment of “don’t snitch.” They’re afraid to report things because of what might happen to them in retribution from these bullies.
DIN: Why did you choose to live on Daniel Island?
CLR: It was probably more of my wife’s choice. She really liked Daniel Island because of the community and the vibe, and how nice it is. I think she immediately made contact there with people she knew. We’d heard from other people that it was a nice area, and for me, I like it because I can be in the city and I can be everywhere all the time. There’s not a lot of traffic…Generally speaking, my commute to work is about 20 minutes, and to me, that’s very reasonable. I have a good commute, some good neighbors, and a great community.