Even before Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds, 57, was appointed to his position after 35 years in law enforcement, he and his wife wanted to move to the Lowcountry after falling in love with Bluffton after vacationing here.
The South Carolina native inherited a full-time staff of 33 officers in September 2012 when he took office; the police department now totals 49 with a support staff of five. The department’s $6.2 million budget and increased force numbers reflect Bluffton’s growth to a town of more than 13,600 residents.
His department polices 54.3 square miles, and logged 38,366 phone calls for service last year.
Reynolds discusses the issues facing Bluffton and how the police department will deal with them:
Question: Is Bluffton a safe place to live, work and visit?
Answer: I get that question a lot, and I think we are a very safe community. Everything is relative. When you compare us to our surrounding areas, we are extremely safe. Do we have concerns we want to stay on top of? Absolutely. But I’m proud that our crime stats are relatively low.
Q: In 2014, there were 510 Part 1 offenses (serious) and 1,006 Part 2 offenses (less serious), up from 431 and 778 from the year before. What do the numbers tell you?
A: A number of things. We’re growing, our community is growing and that happens, unfortunately. I have great people who find out about the bad people and they find out about us, too. Anytime we have crime increases, we’re concerned about it. What we see a lot of is property crimes, and we’re concerned about that. We also had our first homicide in the town of Bluffton last year, and that’s such a tragedy for our community. We’re trying to do some things to head those things off.
Q: Bluffton’s population has increased 967 percent since 2000. How is it possible to stay ahead of the population surge with police matters?
A: A lot of different ways. We have to build an infrastructure internally to be able to observe that kind of growth. … We try to stay on top of that through our strategic plan: crime reduction, enforcement, our public safety, training and our community orientation, technology and keeping up with the latest and greatest tools to help accomplish mission goals. And then we invest in our people … We have to have succession plans. When I hire a new officer, I’m looking at him or her to see how he or she will do as an officer, sergeant, lieutenant and captain. Our goal is to get those people into those positions. It’s a long-term plan.
Q: Give me a status report on how things are going now in the department.
A: I think things are going good. We had an amazing turnout on Aug. 4 for our National Night Out, and it was a diverse turnout that represented every aspect of our community. It made us feel really proud that people feel comfortable coming here and interacting with our officers and building relationships. We had churches, other community groups, schools, corporate community and businesses … It was amazing.
Q: When you assumed duties in late 2012, what were the biggest challenges at that time?
A: There were some concerns. There was a lot of lossage in this department, internal strife, some community relations concerns, law enforcement relationship problems … so in my first year, I focused on how we can fix that. How do we improve our internal relationships inside the department, and how do we repair our relationships with our community? We’ve got some really bright, talented people, and you come in and you embrace them and tell them you support them. You want them to be successful, so I just tell them, “Here are some clear expectations, here’s what we’re going to do, here’s a plan on how we’re going to do it, and here’s where you fit in.” That seemed to work.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing your department now and in the years ahead?
A: The challenges for us now and in the future are similar to the challenges we’re seeing across the country. How does law enforcement maintain the respect of the community, how do we will build on it and make it better? And at the same time, we deal with some pretty significant problems, whether it’s gangs, drugs, weapons, domestic violence, increased traffic. We have to be well-rounded.
Q: How is Bluffton different and similar to other towns its size, like Beaufort or Orangeburg, regarding its policing practices?
A: We all have pretty much the same issues; it’s scale. We all have people, we all have communities and we all have crime. Where Bluffton to me is different is we have an amazing community. The community in Bluffton makes it easier for us to do our job, and it also boils down to the government support. The mayor and Town Council are very supportive and give us the tools to do our job — I’ve never seen this before anywhere.
Q: Describe your department’s efforts regarding everyday issues, such as parking, traffic and marine patrol.
A: Everyday life is interesting. We do a lot of special events and festivals, and we’re proud to be part of them, but sometime they spread us thin.
Q: In the department’s summary report for 2014, you wrote that there were many advancements in the past year. What were they?
A: Part of what you’re talking about is how do we keep up with the growth; part of that is having to build the infrastructure — a lot of internal reorganization. It helps us manage our growth and puts us in a place for the next step down the road. I want to get these guys onboard, trained and ready when that need comes.
Q: As police chief, what are your specific duties and responsibilities?
A: My main focus internally is to build our team and to try to get them all headed in the right direction — encourage and support them and give them the right tools. Externally, I’m the face of the department. It starts with me. If I’m not out there in the community and people know who I am, then I can’t expect the guys to do it. Building relationships is a big part of what I have to do, and I enjoy it.
Q: What are the responsibilities of your department?
A: Our core mission is public safety.
Q: What’s the biggest complaint from local residents?
A: The biggest thing people complain about is quality of life. Noise is a quality-of-life issue, parking is a quality-of-life issue, traffic is a quality-of-life issue, just like domestic violence and substance abuse. Our biggest concern is: How do we improve the quality of life?