A Charleston Police Department program that launched late last year to better equip officers to serve members of the LGBTQ community is showing early signs of promise.
Coming on the heels of a violent attack by a civilian against a transgender woman on Ann Street in August, those involved in the program say the department is leading the way toward more inclusive, community-oriented policing in South Carolina.
"The men and women of the Charleston Police Department will always work to educate ourselves thoroughly, intentionally and consistently, so we are most capable of treating everyone with the highest levels of dignity and respect, while best meeting the needs of persons of all races, beliefs and backgrounds," Chief Luther Reynolds said in a statement. "We are excited this is another step in achieving the best outcomes possible."
Gender identity training for all Charleston police officers launched in October 2018 and was followed by additional sessions for new recruits.
Terry Cherry, a Charleston police recruitment officer, helped develop the program, conducts the sessions and credits Reynolds with lending unwavering support toward the project.
"He's a really great leader," Cherry said. "Chief Reynolds came in and was very open and forward thinking."
Although the training launched after the Ann Street attack, discussions on how to better serve the LGBTQ community had been underway for some time, Cherry, who is gay and sits on the department's LGBTQ liaison committee, said.
The committee was a product of the Illumination Project, a community engagement program that launched in March 2016 and was born out of a desire to foster better relationships between residents and police in the wake of the 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church.
In the aftermath of the Ann Street incident, the committee consulted with We Are Family, an organization that supports LGBTQ youth, to help with a 30-minute sensitivity training session for officers.
With the help of the Alliance For Full Acceptance, an organization that advocates for the LGBTQ community in the Lowcountry, Cherry expanded the training into a roughly hour-long presentation.
Having the program in place is increasingly important for a city like Charleston, which is experiencing continued growth and an influx of people from increasingly diverse backgrounds and different parts of the country, Cherry said.
"It's hard when you're expected to engage with certain communities and you lack the vocabulary," she said. "It provides communication tools."
Being able to communicate effectively with underrepresented communities is key in deescalating situations when they arise, and in forging trust and new connections that help officers better serve the public, Cherry said.
Chase Glenn, executive director of the Alliance For Full Acceptance, said he is encouraged by what he's seen.
"I'm super impressed by the police department's leadership being proactive," Glenn said. "Chief Reynolds is amazing. We just feel like we have a real advocate in him."
Glenn said he and his team at AFFA hope to see it expand to other departments in the area.
"Charleston is being a leader in this," he said. "Ultimately we need to get this out to all first responders."
Cherry has similar hopes.
For now, though, she's concentrating on developing the training to its full potential in Charleston.
"It would be my hope that this would be a grassroots training that grows and becomes the standard," Cherry said.