The city of Charleston's new chief of police hails from a county outside Washington, D.C., known nationally for its progressive police department.
Mayor John Tecklenburg announced Friday that Luther Reynolds will be the city's new police chief, a decision reached after a seven-month search that drew 86 applicants from across the country. Reynolds will start April 16.
"Luther has a servant's heart," Tecklenburg said as he introduced the new chief at City Hall. "I knew that from the day I met him."
Reynolds has been the assistant police chief in Montgomery County, Md., since 2013 — the same department where he began his career in 1988.
The Montgomery County Police Department serves a racially diverse population of 1.1 million people. It gained a reputation in recent years for compassionate tactics, particularly with people who have drug addictions or mental illnesses.
Reynolds said those approaches have shaped his philosophy of policing and leadership in general.
"It’s about building relationships with the people we serve," he said. "It happens by hiring the right people, training the right people, and having a culture of accountability within the organization.”
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum, conducted Charleston's candidate search this year and in 2006, when the city hired its previous Police Chief Greg Mullen. Wexler said Reynolds shares many of the same leadership qualities as Mullen.
"I think their values are similar. They’re very knowledgeable of policing, and they’re very progressive leaders," Wexler said. "I know them both very well, and knowing Charleston, I think Charleston is getting a rock star."
Mullen earned a positive reputation during his 11 years at the helm of the department for his work to improve the police force's relationships with African-American residents, primarily through the Illumination Project. He retired in August.
Reynolds said he will continue what Mullen started.
"A lot of the communities that need us the most often trust us the least. That’s not uncommon throughout the country. What that means is we have to work really hard to build that trust," he said. "There’s already, I think, a really good process in place. How can I be a part of embracing that and building on that?"
One opportunity will come during an upcoming audit of police practices, which aims to identify any racial biases in the department.
The Charleston Area Justice Ministry waged a months-long campaign last year to convince the city to hire a more experienced firm than the one selected to do the review. Tecklenburg and City Council eventually conceded in November.
The data-driven process could lead to policy changes and more rigorous training methods, Reynolds said, but the ultimate goal will be earning more trust with minorities.
"I think more important ... is that we come out on the other end with a stronger relationship," he said.
In Montgomery County, Reynolds established new use-of-force policies, and led the department's implementation of body-worn cameras.
He said, in some ways, it might be easier to introduce new technologies and training programs in Charleston because the police department is less than half the size of Montgomery County's.
Mullen already set some projects in motion, such as the new real-time crime center that uses live mapping data to track what's being reported and where.
Tecklenburg's choice seems to be well-received by police officers. Several crowded around Reynolds after Friday's press conference to congratulate him.
Finalists included two black candidates, the city's Interim Police Chief Jerome Taylor and Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner. Buckner withdrew his candidacy on Monday following a controversy over his past clashes with black officers in his department.
The two other white candidates were Joseph Clark, deputy police chief of the Norfolk Police Department, and Michael Sullivan, deputy police chief in Louisville, Ky.