By Barney Blakeney
Charleston is a rapidly changing city, a city known as much for its rich southern culture as its world-class metropolitan flare. Charleston is a city in constant transition. Police Chief Luther Reynolds is part of that transition.
Reynolds took the helm as the city’s new police chief April 16 succeeding Greg Mullen, who in 2006 followed Reuben Greenberg, the city’s first Black police chief. Greenberg’s arrival in Charleston as police chief signaled pivotal period in the city’s transition. Greenberg was the first Black police chief in the city’s more than 300 year history. Throughout that history, the city’s population overwhelmingly was Black. Even beyond slavery Blacks in the city outnumbered whites, often more than 3-1. The administration of Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. installed in 1976 ushered in an era of diversity during which many Blacks occupied executive level positions Greenberg became police chief in 1982.
Over the past 40 years the city has changed. Today Charleston’s population of approximately 142,000 is about 26 percent Black and compared to adjacent sister city, North Charleston, crime is relatively low. For example, there were 35 homicides in North Charleston last year compared to six in Charleston. Reynolds considers Charleston overall a very safe city and sees his mission in Charleston as one of leading with integrity and truth, characteristics of good leadership. It’s a mission that isn’t defined by minority statistics.
As a former assistant chief of the Montgomery County, Maryland Police Department outside Washington, D.C., since 1988 Reynolds moved up through the ranks in the department of some 1,300 sworn officers and 600 non-sworn employees that covered over 500 square miles serving over 1 million people.
Assistant Chief Reynolds has a Master of Science degree in Business with a concentration in Information Systems Technology from Johns Hopkins University. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology from Florida State University, is a graduate of the FBI’s National Academy and National Executive Institute, the Major Cities Chiefs Association’s Police Executive Leadership Institute (PELI), and the Police Executive Research Forum’s Senior Management Institute for Police (SMIP). From 2013 to 2017, he was the Assistant Chief of the Montgomery County Police Department Administrative Bureau and held the position of Assistant Chief of the Patrol Bureau since October of 2017.
Reynolds says his faith, family and training are among his greatest assets, assets he believes he can use to serve all Charleston communities, including its minority communities. Montgomery County Police Department served residents who spoke more than 150 different languages and embraced even more different cultures. Leading police officers means constantly seeking the right things for the right reasons, he said. It’s that philosophy he brings to his job as Charleston police chief.
Surrounding himself with the right people who have the right training and who are committed to the mission of professional unbiased policing are objectives he hopes to achieve on the way to continuing the high standards that define Charleston Police Department, Reynolds said. Part of that includes incorporating new technologies in addition to progressive police strategies. And he welcomes the race based bias audit that should get underway for the department next year.
Talented people who continually train and are held accountable realize his perception that good cops don’t just happen, Reynolds said. Charleston Police Department is a good organization that constantly should ask itself how it can become better. He wants to hire more minority officers who share that perception. Currently about 20 percent of the department’s approximately 400 sworn officers are Black. He’s short 36 officers, Reynolds said.
Every community wants to be safe and officers who understand the communities they patrol make that happen, Reynolds believes. Information, technology, engineering, education and arrests all tied together can create that safety, he said.