After living most of his life in Montgomery County, from delivering newspapers as a kid in Gaithersburg to policing the streets and becoming a leader in the police department, Assistant Chief Luther Reynolds is moving on.
On April 16, Reynolds will take over as the police chief in Charleston, South Carolina. Monday is his last day with the Montgomery County police department, where he’s worked for 29 years.
As he prepared for the move, Reynolds, 51, said he’s excited about the new post, though it feels bittersweet to leave.
“I feel rooted here,” he said. “It sounds kind of corny, but I really love Montgomery County, and I have a deep love for the men and women of our police department, the people in our community.”
After growing up in Gaithersburg and attending Seneca Valley High School, Reynolds finished high school in Florida and graduated from Florida State University. During the summers of his college years, he returned to Montgomery County to serve as an intern for the police department—where he started working in the budgeting offices as soon as he graduated in 1988.
He enlisted in the police academy and after graduating, served as a patrol officer throughout the county, which he said “is like having a front row seat to the greatest show on earth.” He rose through the ranks and served as commander of the 2nd and 5th districts before becoming assistant chief in 2013.
In a statement, Chief Tom Manger said Reynolds has been an “outstanding leader” in the county and nationally in law enforcement. Reynolds is a member of the Police Executive Research Forum, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Senior Management Institute for Policing and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
“The city of Charleston is so fortunate to get Luther Reynolds as their police chief. He is smart, understands what the public wants from their police department, and has the work ethic to get the job done right. He cares about the public and cares about his cops. … I will miss him both personally and professionally.”
Reynolds said Charleston, with a highly educated community that’s progressive and open to new ideas, is similar to Montgomery County in many ways. When he arrives in the South Carolina city, he said he plans to focus on developing relationships and engaging in the community.
Across the country, there are communities that are afraid of police, Reynolds said. He said Hispanic communities in Maryland have lost trust in authority in light of ongoing immigration issues, and Charleston faces serious racial issues as well. It’s up to police to “bridge those gaps” and build trust in communities, he said.
“We need to have an open dialogue about and hear people’s concerns about a history of things we have to be made aware of,” Reynolds said. “That’s an ongoing challenge to lead through those painful issues of the past and some of those perceptions, and to be able to build trust takes a lot of work.”
During his time in Montgomery County, Reynolds faced his share of challenges. He was district commander in Bethesda on the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the National Institutes of Health and Navy Medical campuses were still openly accessible and had to be protected. He said he was also proud of overseeing the safety for both sides at protests at an abortion center in Gaithersburg when he was 5th district commander.
Reynolds played a significant role in the implementation of the use of body cameras in the police department. He thinks the move has already helped to improve police operations and public trust, though it’s still a work in progress and the department and lawmakers are working to perfect the program.
“Body cameras are very helpful, but [they’re] not a panacea,” he said. “A body camera is not going to give us public trust, it’s not going to build relationships that don’t already exist. It’s a good tool, but it’s not the only answer to being a professional police organization and having public trust.”
For Reynolds, the main goal is for officers to build a relationship with the community one service call at a time. Reynold’s mom died when he was 13, and his dad wasn’t around a lot. He said he was “one of those people who could have easily fallen through the cracks” without the help and support of others and he feels it’s important for the community to support people who might otherwise turn to crime.
“I’m lucky I’m on this side of the law and not the other side,” he said. “I always had good teachers and pastors and athletic coaches and neighbors.”
Reynolds lives with his wife, Caroline, in a Gaithersburg home they bought more than 20 years ago, and they’re moving to Charleston together this week. His daughter, Grace, is a freshman at Coastal Carolina University and his son, Luke, works in the county. In addition to friends and family nearby, Reynolds said he’ll miss the Cedar Brook Community Church in Clarksburg, where he helps lead a men’s ministry, as well as his running group, with whom he runs in marathons and around D.C. monuments on weekends.
After his nearly three decades with the Montgomery County police department, he feels like he’s left it in good hands.
“There’s a lot of negative things around policing right now, [so] to see men and women who are so committed and so talented, it I absolutely feels good walking away knowing that we have a lot of good people still out here doing this job,” he said.