Former Commander of the 5th District in Germantown Montgomery County Police Assistant Chief Luther Reynolds has been named the next Chief of Police for the City of Charleston, South Carolina. This marks the third commander of the Germantown police station to go on to become the head of a police department in another state.
Last year, former 5th District Commander David Gillespie left Montgomery County to become the Chief of Police for Melbourne, Florida. Gillespie replaced Reynolds in 5D when he was named Assistant Chief. Capt. Joe Price, who served as Commander of the 5th District before Reynolds went on to become the Chief of Police in Leesburg, Virginia.
On Monday, April 9, Reynolds will complete his last tour of duty after 29 years of service with the Montgomery County Police Department. He will become the City of Charleston Police Department’s new Police Chief on April 16.
“It is a great opportunity and I am excited about it,” said Reynolds, “but in some ways it is bittersweet. I am kind of sad to leave my roots here in the County. But I am excited to be able to leave and do something new.”
Assistant Chief Reynolds grew up in Gaithersburg and attended Seneca Valley High School. Upon graduating from Florida State University in 1988, Reynolds was hired by the Department as a civilian employee handling budgets and planning and policy issues. He entered the police academy in August of 1989. Reynolds, his wife Caroline, and their 21-year-old son Luke and 18-year-old daughter Grace have lived in Gaithersburg.
His first assignment was as a patrol officer in the 5th Police District, which at that time combined coverage of both the Gaithersburg and Germantown areas. Reynolds rose through the ranks from Patrol Officer to Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain/Commander, to Assistant Chief.
Reynolds said growing up in the UpCounty and later having the opportunity to police the same neighborhoods he grew up in was a privilege. “It was unique and fun to be able to do that,” he said. “When I started on the police department, I started in the 5th District. At the time, the 5th and 6th Districts were all one police district and it also included Poolesville. It was by far the biggest and busiest police district at the time, when I came out of the academy.”
“Fast forward many years later I got to be the commander of the same district where I had started and at a time when there was a lot of things changing about the Germantown area,” said Renyolds. “Germantown was just picking up steam with the development of the central business district, and the new library, and BlackRock Center for the Arts. There were so many things that were new. When I grew up, there was basically nothing north of Rt. 118 other than a few sparse housing developments.”
Through the years, he has served in many positions to include Deputy Director of the 4th District, Commander of the 2nd District and 5th District, Director of the Personnel Division, Director of the Training and Education Division, and Director of the Special Operations Division. Since his appointment to an Assistant Chief in 2013, he has served as Chief of two bureaus: the Management Services Bureau and currently the Patrol Services Bureau.
He said that his years as commander of the 5th District were a great training ground for the next phase of his career. “It prepared me in a lot of ways. For one, it prepared me to be a good executive. In policing you have to have a love of community, a love for the mission, and love for the troops. I didn’t always have that. When I was young, I wasn’t one of those guys that wanted to be a police officer his whole life. I didn’t have this burning desire to be a cop. It kind of found me while I was in college. It helped me a lot in that I really became a part of the community. I became connected to the community. I learned a lot more about crime, not just from the police perspective, but from the community’s perspective.” Reynolds' selection changes the face of Charleston area law enforcement following years of tension that came to a head after the shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston in April 2015.
Reynolds' selection as the new Chief of Police in Charleston comes after he was one of the top five finalists for the Chief of Police in Dallas. He was ultimately not offered that spot. His hiring by the City of Charleston changes the face of Charleston area law enforcement following years of tension that came to a head after the shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston in April 2015.
"Luther has a servant’s heart," said Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said before introducing Reynolds to the Council chamber, according to an article published in the City Paper in Charleston. "I knew that from the first day I met him and heard his responses. He’s a guardian and will lead the Charleston Police Department in that tradition of guardianship."
Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger, commenting on Reynolds’ retirement and future endeavor, said, “Charleston is getting one phenomenal police chief. Chief Luther Reynolds has served Montgomery County with a commitment that is unsurpassed. His genuine care for the public and for his troops has made him an outstanding leader. He will remain a leading voice for our Nation’s law enforcement.”
Reynolds will replace interim police chief Jerome Taylor, who was appointed after chief Greg Mullen's retirement in June 2017. Taylor was also considered for the permanent position.
According to the City Paper, the Charleston Police Department was recently the focus of a back-and-forth between city leaders and activists, including members of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, who sought an independent racial bias audit of the city's law enforcement agency. CAJM is a group of 28 member congregations in the Charleston region who typically devote their resources to a single issue per year. In 2016 and 2017, that issue was racial bias in policing.
Reynolds understands that there are some challenges in his new post. “There is a challenge in Charleston, but I wouldn’t make any assumptions that it isn’t a challenge here in Montgomery County,” said Reynolds. “We work very, very hard and have a very high level of trust with our communities here, but we are sensitive to the fact that we need to continue that engagement — every officer, every day. It involves how we use technology in terms of body cameras, how we follow up with our investigations and how we work with and engage with the youth in Montgomery County.”
He added, “There are a lot of groups in Montgomery County who do feel that they are not well represented and feel disenfranchised and fractured at times. While, I think we do it well here, but those relationship and any Good Will which has been created did not happen overnight and any problems will not just be fixed overnight.”
“You can’t develop trust with a single conversation. It is every day. It is who we hire and how we train them. It is the culture of accountability. I am excited about bringing some of those ideas and efforts to what I really believe is already a good department. The Charleston Police Department is very highly educated, almost 100 percent of their officers have a four-year degree, and many have advance degrees or advanced command college training. Charleston is known as being progressive and being a beacon of forward thinking, innovative police force. With officers who are engaged in their communities. However, there are definitely challenges going forward, there is no question about that.”
He noted how his time in Germantown help prepare him to meet those challenges.
“In Germantown and Gaithersburg in those area where I grew up and I spent many years policing, there are a lot of people in the immigrant community, folks from different walks of life, different cultures, different languages, and people that have come from other countries and cultures that have different life experiences where they have learned to not trust the police,” said Reynolds. “So many times, those areas that are under reporting crimes or not reporting crimes because they are fearful or afraid for a variety of reasons. It makes all the more important for police to engage in that conversation with people. Working in Germantown and Gaithersburg we did that. We did it my whole career. We always had a model of community policing and problem solving, and having a partnership with not just other public safety departments, but other entities such as the Chamber of Commerce, and all of the HOAs, and our councilmembers.”
Reynolds credits those relationships with folks in the community for allowing him to grow as a leader and executive.
“Through those close relationships with the likes of Councilmember Rice and Cathy Matthews of the UpCounty Regional Service Center, and the civic leaders in Germantown and Gaithersburg, I learned to rely other people and that will serve me anywhere I go because the police can’t do it alone. They have to do it in concert with a lot of other leaders.”
“Even things like working through the budget process, and knowing how to work closely with other county agencies, such as MCPS to help keep our schools safer. It is all about working closely in partnership with each other. I have learned how to do that here because we do it so well and that experience will serve me well in my next post.”
“Any one of our six police commands is a great training ground for future police chiefs,” said Reynolds. “If you are commander in any one of our districts, the way Chief Tom Manger has set it up, — that person is given the freedom, the responsibility and resources to be the police chief of their district. They have a lot of freedom and autonomy, but they have a lot of accountability to the community, to the local councilmember, to the Regional services director, to the media, to the chamber of commerce, to the HOAs, and of course to the troops — the men and women in the police department. They are responsible for officers’ motivation, satisfaction, performance, productivity, outcomes, and keeping the community safe. It is a complex and challenging job being a station commander. It is a great training ground to be a chief of police.”
He also pointed to the County’s diversity of culture and diversity of connections to the surrounding jurisdictions as a major factor in his growth as a police executive.
“Being in Montgomery County having the diversity in we have in our police department and our communities, and our local government. The level of collaboration and partnering within our region, with the National Capital Region, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the way that our jurisdictions interaction with each other. That fact that we have had big events, things like the DC Sniper, and 9/11, and special events occurring in Montgomery County — everyone one of our station commanders deals with those complex issues regularly and it is a great opportunity.”
“I am happy to see 5D be one district which seems to create police chiefs,” said Reynolds.
Photo courtsey MCPD.