North Charleston’s new police chief, who is currently a chaplain, may speak often about love and understanding, but he’s also tough on crime according to Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon.
“Eddie is fair with people, but he also loves to put people in jail,” Cannon said this morning at a press event where North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey re-introduced the new chief, Eddie Driggers.
The Post and Courier reported Wednesday that Summey had picked Driggers to be police chief, and Driggers made his first public appearance to talk about his appointment at a City Council meeting Thursday night, wearing his crime-scene jacket with “CHAPLAIN” on the back.
That night, Driggers sounded less like a cop and more like the ordained minister he soon will become.
Driggers, a 58-year-old retired law enforcement officer who is deputy senior chaplain for the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, did not speak at the City Council meeting about reducing crime or improving public safety in South Carolina’s third-largest city.
Instead, he spoke about love.
“From the person on the street to the richest person in the area, it’s important for people to know they are loved,” said Driggers, who is scheduled to become ordained at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in December. “I intend to show (the city’s police officers) my heart, so that they can show others that they care.”
This morning Cannon made a point of reminding people that Driggers was previously the county’s assistant sheriff, and the man Cannon picked to run the county detention center. Cannon and Driggers go way back, to the time more than three decades ago when both served on the North Charleston police force.
Summey personally picked Driggers for the city’s top police post, eschewing a search for candidates or a review process involving City Council, as was used 11 years ago when Chief Jon Zumalt was chosen.
“We got some criticism that we didn’t do a national search and that sort of thing,” Summey said. “I’m not going to waste $50,000 on a national search when I know we have the right man for the job.”
Summey said a broader search would have been pointless because his mind was made up. This morning the mayor said he’s sorry if the hiring process offended anyone, but that he won’t change it.
“When I was trying to figure out what to do, one name kept hitting me in the face,” Summey told council members Thursday during their regular meeting at City Hall.
Summey said that when Zumalt recently announced plans to retire at the end of January, he immediately thought of Driggers, a law enforcement veteran with more than three decades of experience and a family friend who has an office in City Hall.
“I felt we needed someone with not only the skill to lead the police department but the ability to heal people,” Summey said. Driggers’ compassion and understanding will help North Charleston residents work better together as one community, he said.
Summey does not need council’s approval.
“North Charleston has a strong-mayor form of government, so it is really up to the mayor’s discretion,” said Eric Budds, deputy executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina.
Some leaders in the North Charleston black community — the heads of the North Charleston and Charleston NAACP branches and state Sen. Robert Ford — have said residents are upset that other candidates didn’t have an opportunity to apply.
“A lot of people are upset,” Ford said Thursday. “Everybody is saying the same thing, that they should have opened it up and let people apply, and hired the best.”
Ford said he considers Summey a longtime personal friend, but he suggested that the city should create an affirmative-action policy to address the perception that people are hired through a “buddy-buddy” system.
“It’s his choice to make, but you can’t do that anymore,” Ford said. “Not in 2012, not in a major city.”
North Charleston NAACP President Ed Bryant earlier publicly suggested “it was time” for the city to hire a black police chief, perhaps Deputy Chief Reggie Burgess.
Summey told Bryant, in a conversation after the council meeting, that it would have been unfair to interview other candidates and get their hopes up. The mayor said he loves all the department’s deputy chiefs but did not think any were ready to take on the chief’s job.
Bryant said that, nonetheless, the city needs a better process, in order to give applicants and city employees of all races an opportunity for advancement, in a city where blacks are the largest population group by race.
He also noted the lack of diversity among six firefighters and a police officer, all white men, who were introduced to City Council as new hires Thursday.
Council members made no comments about the hiring process during the meeting. And no members of the public signed up to comment on the issue. A few council members later said they were surprised by Summey’s quick selection of Driggers but stopped short of criticizing the process or the mayor’s choice. Others praised the decision.
“He’s a good pick,” said Councilwoman Rhonda Jerome. “He’s one of those guys who didn’t forget where he came from.”
Driggers is a North Charleston native who lives in the Park Circle area a few blocks from the mayor. He began a 31-year law-enforcement career as a North Charleston patrolman, and went on to become second-in-command at the county Sheriff’s Office.
He served in many roles, from homicide detective to SWAT team member, before retiring from law enforcement in 2006.
As a chaplain, he often ministers on the street to victims of crimes and house fires, and to police officers and firefighters on the job.
After the meeting, he reiterated his comments about making residents feel loved.
“That is who I am,” he said. “It is important for people to know they are valued, and that comes with love.”
Driggers said that if some people are displeased with his being chosen as the new police chief, he can only address their opinions with the service he will provide.
Driggers is scheduled to join the Police Department Jan. 1, to begin a month-long transition period before Zumalt retires.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews