Gov. Henry McMaster set some heady expectations last week for Reginald L. “Reggie” Burgess when he nominated the North Charleston police chief to be the next director of the S.C. Department of Public Safety: “Chief Burgess is one of the finest leaders our state has ever produced.”
In fact, it’ll take a turnaround specialist to redeem the troubled 1,300-employee state agency. A fair question is whether Burgess, the popular cop with the ascendant 30-year career, is that specialist.
There are good reasons to conclude that Burgess is a nice fit for this challenge.
The “Reggie” we North Charlestonians know can deliver what the Department of Public Safety needs most – a renewal of morale nurtured from the top ranks of caring leadership; a renewal of professionalism, nurtured with the values of transparency and accountability; a renewal of customer service nurtured by a sense of purpose and public mission. He can do all of that and more – because he has.
The position description mirrors Burgess’ persona – and his bottom-up career records. His presence is framed by a soft-speaking humility and abiding respect for whomever he is dealing with, and a determination to make good things happen — or mitigate the inevitable bad stuff cops confront daily. He embraces opportunities for personal growth and he’s eager to try new methods and better practices. And perhaps above all else, he genuinely cares about the work environment for the law enforcement professionals the public relies on every hour of every day.
“His career in law enforcement and personal achievement is remarkable,” McMaster said. The governor’s evaluation correctly concludes that Burgess has excelled and made a difference quickly in each step he took up the ladders of leadership.
Burgess grew up in the venerable African American Liberty Hill and Union Heights neighborhoods of North Charleston.
He graduated from Bonds-Wilson/North Charleston High School in 1984 and attended Morgan State University in Baltimore on a football scholarship. He was an All-America wide receiver and nominated to the Black College Sports All-America first team. He married his high school sweetheart, Tracy. Son Reggie II and daughter Kristen have anchored their family life.
A man with a long rap-sheet came to the swearing-in ceremony for Chief Burgess in 2018. “Reggie,” he said, was the cop who tried to help him even as Burgess kept putting him in jail. At the same ceremony, a mother loudly declared that “Reggie” saved her son “from the streets. “
“Reggie paid his dues at every rank, he is liked by his peers and he’s always open to new ideas,” Mayor Keith Summey said. “We could not be prouder of him — and grateful for the governor’s recognition of his leadership.”
Yes, to some, this might seem like a big job for this son of North Charleston. He’ll certainly have to adjust quickly to the demanding dynamics of performing in the state capital fishbowl. But the kind of leadership needed for this big job need not be in a loud and flashy package. In fact, Burgess’ admired traits of self-possession and humility, paired with his impressive leadership achievements and credible public service, should match well with the needs of a floundering agency. As Mayor Summey noted, Burgess has excelled at every level, “and the Department of Public Safety is his next ‘level.’”
Chief Burgess can handle this challenge — and he will with his comfortable embrace of teamwork and accountability.
Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, is a North Charleston city councilman. He can be reached at email@example.com.