North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has chosen a retired law enforcement veteran who is now a chaplain to be the city’s new police chief, but the mayor is facing criticism for picking someone he knows without conducting a broad search or involving others in the decision.
New N. Chas. police chief
NAME: Eddie DriggersAge: 58Background: Began in law enforcement as a North Charleston police officer in 1975. Joined the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office in 1986, and rose through the ranks to become Sheriff Al Cannon’s second in command before retiring in 2006.currently: In 2008 joined the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, where he is deputy senior chaplain.
Police chief is a high-profile and often controversial job in racially diverse North Charleston, which was named one of the most dangerous cities in the country just five years ago before making strides to bring violent crime rates down.
Summey has picked Eddie Driggers, 58, to replace Chief Jon Zumalt, who last week that he would retire at the end of January after 11 years with North Charleston. Driggers is currently deputy senior chaplain for the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, with an office in North Charleston City Hall.
“I immediately thought of this person, a great guy with a lot of experience in law enforcement,” Summey said. “A lot of my officers know him, like him and respect him.”
Some City Council members were caught off guard by Summey’s choice. Unlike the police chief selection 11 years ago that put Zumalt in the top job, there was no national search, no review committee and no recommendation process that produced top picks for the mayor to choose from.
“I wish I knew more about Eddie Driggers so I could make a comment,” Councilman Ed Astle said.
North Charleston NAACP President Ed Bryant also does not know Driggers, and said the city should have conducted an open search that could have given department veterans a chance to apply.
“I don’t know Mr. Driggers from Adam’s house cat,” Bryant said. “But I do know that the process was insulting.
“I’m not saying it’s a problem that they hired a white police chief, but it would have been better if they had put out some criteria for selecting a police chief, and hired the person who had the best qualifications,” he said.
Bryant had earlier called on Summey to hire a black police chief, and suggested North Charleston Deputy Chief Reggie Burgess for the job, saying “it was time.” While violent crime has dropped sharply under Zumalt, tactics including aggressive traffic stops have been criticized by the NAACP and some community leaders.
Summey said he has known Driggers for a long time, and under North Charleston’s strong-mayor form of government, “it’s purely my decision.”
Driggers lives near the mayor, and Summey said their sons played together as children and on sports teams in high school.
Councilman Todd Olds applauded Summey’s pick.
“I believe the mayor’s immediate selection of Chief Eddie Driggers not only proves our concern for the safety of our city, but it enables North Charleston to continue quality law enforcement in an almost seamless manner,” Olds said.
Dot Scott, a North Charleston resident who is president of the Charleston NAACP, echoed Bryant’s concerns about the selection process.
“They never seem to be able to reach within their department,” she said. “I guess they are just not going to put an African-American in that position, or some other officer from the department.
“I just seems like there’s a good-old-boy network in North Charleston,” Scott said. “I don’t know the new guy, but I hope we will get lucky, and things will continue to move up.”
Driggers did not want to discuss his reasons for agreeing to take the police chief job, or the criticism of the selection process Wednesday, but said he is humbled by the opportunity.
“I’ve been a public servant all of my adult life,” Driggers said.
Summey said the chaplaincy program, which often involves ministering to victims at crime scenes, has given Driggers a strong outlook on people.
“He’ll be a good person to deal with community issues, and I think he is what we need in the next years,” Summey said.
Zumalt declined to comment on Driggers’ selection. Summey said Driggers will start work Jan. 1, allowing for a month-long transition period before Zumalt departs.
Summey plans to introduce Driggers to City Council at a regularly scheduled meeting a 7 tonight in City Hall. The council does not have a say the mayor’s selection.
The new chief’s pay will be in the $120,000 range, about what Zumalt earns, city staff has said.
Glenn Smith contributed to this report.