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Blog Post: Q&A with Chief Chito Walker (Charleston, SC)

Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force   Blog

After serving as interim chief, Chito Walker was appointed Chief of Police for Charleston, South Carolina in November 2023. He is not only the Chief of Police but a longstanding member of the Charleston community, having been a part of the Charleston PD since starting his career in law enforcement. Although Charleston looks very different than cities along the border, Chief Walker still reflects on his own role amidst national conversations on immigration and law enforcement, shedding light on the importance of port security and the distinction between human trafficking and smuggling.

The chief’s responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

When considering your life’s mission in policing, what inspired you to become a member of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force (LEITF)?

My commitment to serving and safeguarding the diverse community of Charleston is deeply intertwined with understanding and addressing the unique needs of our immigrant population. Immigrants are a vital part of America’s social and economic fabric; and in Charleston, they play an integral role in shaping our city’s identity and future.

As the Chief of Police, this understanding led me to join the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force (LEITF). My participation is driven by the belief that effective policing must be inclusive and responsive to all segments of our community By working with LEITF, I aim to foster an environment of trust and cooperation between law enforcement and immigrant communities while ensuring that our policing strategies are equitable and supportive of everyone we serve.

What is your relationship to all members of the Charleston community (including immigrants) and the local police department?

My connection to the Charleston community is not just professional but is greatly personal as well. I am a part of this community—my family is here, and I have raised my daughters here. This personal investment reinforces my commitment to ensuring that our police department serves every member of the community.

My relationship with both the community and the local police department is founded on a philosophy of open dialogue and engagement. By embedding myself and our officers within the community, I aim to build mutual understanding and stronger relationships with our community members. This approach not only enhances trust but also bolsters our mission to serve and protect with compassion and respect for all individuals regardless of their backgrounds.

How does port security fit into your plans for leading the Charleston police department? And how does that distinguish your department’s efforts from others to combat drug/human trafficking and human smuggling?

Port security is a critical component of our strategy for leading the Charleston Police Department given the city’s large maritime port. Our collaboration with port security and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is essential. We have embedded Charleston Police Department (CPD) detectives within the local Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Unit to effectively coordinate efforts against human trafficking, which can sometimes originate from port activities. Unlike many local agencies, CPD has the advantage of having two dedicated detectives in HSI; one focuses on general Task Force operations and the other specializes in Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC).

Additionally, our Harbor Patrol Unit actively collaborates with local, state, and federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard and CBP, to conduct boater safety checks that may uncover narcotics or human trafficking activities. Additionally, CPD’s K-9 Unit, which includes dogs trained to detect drugs and locate firearms or explosives, is instrumental in supporting port security operations. This multifaceted approach demonstrates our commitment to securing our maritime borders and distinguishes CPD’s comprehensive strategies in effectively combating drug trafficking, human trafficking, and human smuggling.

How do you situate port security into national conversations on immigration and border security, especially when it comes to combatting human and drug trafficking?

Considering national discussions on immigration and border security, particularly regarding human and drug trafficking, the situation at the Port of Charleston is different from what is seen at the southern border and in Western states. The volume of traffic we handle is substantially lower, which inherently reduces the frequency of trafficking incidents. While we remain vigilant in our security measures, the scale of challenges we face at Charleston’s port does not mirror the intensity experienced by our counterparts at the national borders. This distinction allows us to tailor our port security strategies to effectively address and manage the specific risks and threats pertinent to our local context.

As a police chief, how do you draw/explain the distinction between human trafficking and human smuggling?

As a police chief, it’s crucial to clarify the differences between human trafficking and human smuggling, as these terms are often mistakenly conflated.

In contrast, human trafficking is a far more grievous and coercive practice. It involves the forced or deceptive exploitation of individuals for labor or sexual exploitation. Victims of trafficking do not consent to their movement or exploitation and are often subjected to abusive and inhumane conditions. Unlike smuggling, human trafficking does not necessarily involve the crossing of international borders and can occur within a single locality or region. Understanding these distinctions is essential for effective law enforcement and public awareness as we address these separate but serious issues.

What concerns and priorities do you have for your community given the ongoing national immigration and law enforcement debate?

Immigration has long been at the forefront of U.S. political debate, presenting unique challenges and opportunities for communities nationwide. As a police chief, my foremost priority is to ensure the safety and security of everyone who lives in, works in, and visits our community. It is vital that all members of our community, regardless of their immigration status, are treated with fairness and respect.

In the context of the ongoing national debate on immigration and law enforcement, my main concern is that we maintain a balanced approach that both upholds the law and ensures that our policing practices are just and non-discriminatory. I am committed to promoting an environment where all individuals feel safe and supported, and where trust between law enforcement and community members is continually strengthened. This involves not only adherence to legal standards, but also to the human rights and dignity of every individual we serve.


The LEITF would like to thank Grace Wiczek, Spring Intern, for her contribution to this blog post.

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