Governor selects N. Charleston police chief for top state position

Chief tells staff of governor’s decision via email; confirmation by Senate pending
Updated: Nov. 27, 2019 at 5:48 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster says he has selected the police chief of North Charleston to serve as the next director of the state’s Department of Public Safety beginning in February.

In a letter to state Senate President Harvey Peeler, McMaster called North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess “one of the finest leaders our state has ever produced.”

“His career in law enforcement and personal achievement is remarkable,” McMaster wrote of Burgess. “I am confident that he will do an excellent job as the new director by restoring employee morale, recruiting and retaining additional troopers and addressing discipline and grievance policies.”

Burgess notified his department of the news via email Wednesday.

“Recently, I was contacted by Governor Henry McMaster about the Director position for the Department of Public Safety. After prayer and consultation with my family, I have decided to proceed with the nomination process," Chief Burgess wrote.

Burgess said in the email that he was nominated for the position but it will still require confirmation by the state Senate. That could take a few months, he said.

“During this time, I will remain committed to continuing to carry out my duties as Chief of Police. I ask for your continued prayers and thank you for allowing me to be your Chief in the finest police department in the state," Burgess wrote.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey says he was made aware about McMaster’s plan to nominate Burgess about 10 days ago.

"[Burgess] has been an acquaintance and friend for close to 30 years and I have watched him grow and develop and I think he’ll do an outstanding job for the governor and the state,” Summey said.

The mayor says he hopes the state senate will hold a confirmation hearing quickly, and assuming he’s confirmed, Summey says Burgess would take over the job on Feb. 1. Summey says that would give him time to find a new chief.

The news comes one day after current SCDPS Director Leroy Smith announced his departure in an email sent to his staff members.

Burgess said in an email to staff that he still has to be confirmed by the state Senate for the...
Burgess said in an email to staff that he still has to be confirmed by the state Senate for the Director of DPS position.(City of North Charleston)

Burgess replaced former NCPD Chief Eddie Driggers to become the city's ninth police chief.

He took over a department that was was embroiled in controversy after former officer Michael Slager shot and killed Walter Scott during a traffic stop three years earlier.

Burgess is a life-long resident of North Charleston and graduated from Bonds-Wilson/North Charleston High School in 1984. He joined the North Charleston police department as an entry-level patrolman in 1989.

“In 1989, Chief Burgess decided on a law enforcement career with the North Charleston Police Department. He chose law enforcement partially because he always wanted to be a S.W.A.T. member. But most importantly, because he respected the rights that every citizen is afforded and he wanted to help protect those rights," an online biography of the Chief on the City of North Charleston’s website states.

In a statement released at the time North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey named him the new police chief, Burgess acknowledged the role a television show played in his wanting to pursue a career in law enforcement.

“When I was a teenager, growing up in various neighborhoods in North Charleston, there was a television show called ‘SWAT,’” Burgess said in a statement in 2018. “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.”

Burgess was promoted over his decades of service, working on patrol, in schools, and in the Office of Professional Standards. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1999, captain in 2004, deputy chief in 2007 and assistant police chief in 2013.

The director of the state Department of Public Safety oversees South Carolina’s largest law enforcement agency with an estimated 1,300 employees. The SCDPS is charged with enforcing the traffic, motor vehicle and motor carrier laws; educating the public on highway safety; administering highway safety and criminal justice grant programs; and providing security and safety services for public officials as well as state properties. The SCDPS includes the S.C. Highway Patrol; State Transport Police; Bureau of Protective Services; and the Immigration Enforcement Unit.

The governor appoints the director. Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Smith to his role in 2011. Smith’s second term in the role ends in February.

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