The City of North Charleston has named Reggie Burgess, a life-long local resident and career cop, as the city’s new police chief today. The changing of the guard comes after a record number of homicides last year and after repeated pleas from local African-American groups for improved relations between the local community and the police department.

Burgess, 52, started in the police department as an entry-level patrolman in 1989 before being named assistant chief in 2013, a statement by the City of North Charleston said.

“When I was a teenager, growing up in various neighborhoods in North Charleston, there was a television show called SWAT,” Reggie Burgess said in the statement announcing his appointment. “Although it was Hollywood fiction, the show created a spark for me to explore serving my community through police work, to protect all who felt victimized. I knew becoming a police officer would allow me to have a direct impact on improving my city and the neighborhoods where I grew up.” 
[embed-1] Burgess will replace current police chief Eddie Driggers, 64, who was a chaplain and retired law enforcement officer when he took the job in January 2013.

Driggers’ five years as police chief were marked by the April 2015 shooting of motorist Walter Scott at the hands of NCPD officer Michael Slager (who was sentenced to 20 years in prison last month). Activist groups such as the National Action Network, The Coalition, the NAACP, and Black Lives Matter asked Driggers to step down in January 2016 when Slager was released on $500,000 bail.
During an April 2017 assembly, the Charleston Area Justice Ministry applauded the dramatic reduction in public contact stops by North Charleston police officers. But in September 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice pulled the plug on a collaborative reform initiative and, to this day, refuses to release its findings on its review of the North Charleston Police Department.

Driggers’ tenure also saw a rise in North Charleston’s murder rate, leading to the city’s deadliest year in 2017. 35 people were killed in North Charleston last year, up from 32 in 2016, according to The Post & Courier.

Dot Scott, president of the Charleston NAACP and a resident of North Charleston, says the appointment is “long overdue.”

“The fact that this is the first African-American chief in the city of North Charleston — the ills are more prominent within that community,” Scott said.

Scott cited previous North Charleston police chief Jon Zumalt’s tactics, which involved performing more stops in high-crime neighborhoods, as the type of work that should be avoided in the future.

“We don’t wanna go back to the big net, casting a big net and getting innocent people involved in this process,” Scott said. “We hope that [Burgess] will be an integral part in bringing the resolution that we’re working towards in the community with the [Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Community for Police Relations].”

Balancing the tasks of lowering the murder rate while simultaneously ensuring more justice in policing has proven difficult for the city.

“Doing things over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity,” said North Charleston NAACP head Ed Bryant in an interview with P&C about the idea that more stops lead to less murders. “Now you’re going to resort back to the same thing and expect a different result? That’s insanity. … If they’re going to go back there, they’re asking for more trouble.”

North Charleston Police Department spokesperson Spencer Pryor told CP today that Burgess’s appointment had nothing to do with his race.

“There’s nothing in the release that has anything to do with that,” Pryor said. “We are appointing the chief of police because of his work, but it has nothing to do with what you’re asking.”

North Charleston mayor Keith Summey called Burgess’ passion “unparalleled” in a statement.

“His aptitude for the police work and crime-fighting knowledge will lead the department to new heights, and his presence in the neighborhoods signals a new dawn for community relations,” Summey said. “Reggie has given his entire professional career to the North Charleston Police Department, and this appointment is a deserving achievement for an individual so intrinsically engrained in the community of North Charleston.”

Driggers will move to a role described as “special assistant” to Mayor Summey, a title that the mayor’s office did not clarify Tuesday morning.

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