By Barney Blakeney
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg last week announced Montgomery County Police Department Assist. Chief Luther Reynolds as Charleston’s new police chief. Reynolds beat out five candidates, including Charleston Interim Police Chief Jerome Taylor, to win the position.
When Chief Greg Mullen announced last year he would retire after leading the department for about 10 years Taylor, one of two assistant chiefs, was named interim chief to become the second Black to lead the department of nearly 400 officers. In 1982 Reuben Greenberg became the city’s first Black police chief in its more than 300 year history. He retired in 2005. Many said the city never again would have a Black police chief. But Tecklenburg in June named Taylor interim chief.
There were those calling for Taylor to become chief permanently. Former Charleston City Councilman and S.C. State Sen. Robert Ford was among them. He said then, “If you don’t ask for anything, you won’t get anything. If we don’t ask for a Black police chief now, it won’t happen any time in the near future. Diversity in the city is declining and it’s going to continue.”
About 20 percent of the department’s sworn officers are Black. About 27 percent of the city’s total population is Black.
Charleston Dist. 3 Councilman James Lewis is the longest serving among African American members having been elected in 1995. He’s served during the administrations of both Greenberg and Mullen.
In June he said, “Whether the next police chief is Black or white, if he’s capable of doing the job, that’s all that matters.” Monday he said while he preferred Taylor among the five candidates vying for the position, ultimately the choice should not be about race, but the ability to serve. He hopes Tecklenburg’s choice will be good for the city as it moves forward, he said.
City council’s Public Safety Committeeman Michael Seekings said he felt the search process was a good one. He favored Reynolds for the position. While there are legitimate arguments for Taylor’s appointment, the 44-year veteran lawman’s longevity in the position also is a legitimate concern, Seekings said. “In 15 years will we say we chose the right person? The mayor had to think about all the issues going forward,” Seekings offered.