Charleston Police launch leadership summit, talk community policing

Published: Aug. 24, 2023 at 4:57 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2023 at 7:18 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston Police kicked off its leadership summit with the first lecture of a six-month-long education and training regime for leaders in local law enforcement.

The Leadership Summit program was a vision from former Chief Luther Reynolds to provide continued education and discussions for law enforcement in leadership roles.

Capt. Tony Cretella, head of the Professional Standards Division at the department, says this program took three years to establish.

“The biggest hurdle we had was about funding. It’s not normally part of the budget. So what we did is we made our partnerships with Charleston Rotary, and also the Lens Foundation and without them this summer wouldn’t be possible as they are funding at 100%,” Cretella explains.

Over the course of six months, captains and sergeants from across the state will attend lectures, do skills training, and each will do a capstone research project to graduate from the leadership summit. In total, they will spend 96 hours and dedicate two days a month to participating in the program.

The first lecture took place Thursday in Charleston and welcomed retired First Deputy New York City Police Commissioner Benjamin Tucker. His lecture focused on the history of community policing. Local law enforcement leaders gathered in Charleston and talked before and after the lecture about what their departments are doing to engage with people in their area.

In Charleston, Cretella says those methods change with the times, and in Charleston, leaders are looking to the police advisory council for suggestions on policy and engagement with the public.

“Historically speaking, we’d have events to where we’ve asked them to come to us. We realize that that hasn’t really worked. We need to actually come within the communities, whether it’s these back-to-school events, or coming up for the Friday night participation League, whether it’s basketball, and actually truly interact with citizens and economics. We’re not robots out there. We’re humans just like they are,” Cretella says.

Cretella says a large part of earning the public’s trust also comes from the public telling the police in their area what they want and need. He says the department’s biggest challenge is building community trust.

“We had members from our citizens police advisory council here today, we invited them and they showed up, and that participation really matters to us because a lot of times, we put our message out there, and we don’t know who’s receiving it or how it’s received. By having these relationships with our citizens police Advisory Council, we’re able to hear that feedback and get that feedback back,” Cretella says.

Cretella says transparency and continuing to evolve with the times is a big part of community policing. Since establishing the advisory council three years ago, the department has adjusted some of its systems to allow for re-shaping and input.

“We made a commitment to that committee that every three years we touch our 90 policies that we have on hand. So, every policy gets reviewed at least every three years. Your more important policies such as your use of force, also the internal affairs policy, the vehicle pursuit policies, all those special team policies, those get reviewed on an annual basis just to make sure they’re keeping up with national trends, best standards, or different case law,” Cretella says.

Cretella says achieving a dedicated and educated police force that wants to commit to serving one area is another challenge overall, and a hurdle in community policing. He says recruitment and retention are crucial to shaping officers into what the community needs and allowing them to continue to learn about their specific assignment.

“Why is that a problem is if we’re losing people on the retention side, we’re really not gaining the personnel that we need in today’s law enforcement community. So we really need to focus on that retention aspect as well,” Cretella says.

He looks forward to the rest of the sessions and seeing what ideas and changes the conversations can bring to better departments around the state.