Rick Swearingen, newly appointed commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is taking a stand against a recent article criticizing his trips he took as part of Gov. Rick Scott‘s security detail.
“State’s new FDLE Commissioner has Earned Governor’s Favor,” which ran Feb. 9, has Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas claiming Swearingen took several “inappropriate trips” at Scott’s request.
In December, the Governor promoted Swearingen as FDLE head, after the much-publicized ouster of former chief Gerald Bailey.
From May 2013 to December 2014, Swearingen held dual jobs with Scott – which Klas calls “unusual” – as Capitol Police director, as well as the Governor’s occasional bodyguard during long-distance visits.
The article recounts a series of trips taken with Swearingen – all after his tenure as special agent in charge of security for the governor — including a trade mission to Tokyo, closely followed by a three-day jaunt in Biloxi, Miss., for the annual Southeast U.S./Japan Association conference.
“When Swearingen’s college team, the Auburn Tigers, faced off against the Florida State Seminoles at the 2014 college football championship in Santa Clara, Calif.,” Klas writes, “Swearingen went along for the three-day trip as Scott’s security detail.”
Although Swearingen’s working relationship with Scott, and his unilateral FDLE promotion in December, has drawn scrutiny, the new chief insists the assignments were entirely proper and “anything but plum.”
In a letter sent today to the Times/Herald editors, Swearingen blasts a number of “inaccuracies” found in Klas’ article:
I’m writing to correct several inaccuracies in the Feb. 9 article by Mary Ellen Klas, “Florida’s top cop has earned Gov. Rick Scott’s favor.”
The article implies that as Capitol Police Director, I took inappropriate trips at the request of the Governor. This is not true. As director, one of my duties was to oversee protective operations and I occasionally worked protective operations details, as other directors have done before me. Prior to my appointment by Commissioner Bailey as the Capitol Police Director, I was in charge of protective operations.
These assignments are anything but “plum,” requiring long hours, often in stressful environments filled with crowds and potential threats. International trips can be especially challenging, requiring seasoned agents and supervisors. Communication and coordination on security issues with embassy officials and foreign governments is complex. The Governor keeps a busy schedule from early morning into the evening. Providing protection for the Governor is an honor for any agent, but it is also a professionally challenging assignment.
During my tenure as Capitol Police Director, I worked details due to the number of vacant positions. I worked holidays to allow agents to spend time with their families and to reduce overtime – my position is ineligible to receive overtime pay.
Decisions about assignments are made with security and efficiencies in mind by the person in charge of protective operations. The Governor does not make these decisions nor has he ever asked to have particular agents assigned to his detail.
The article also implies that I’ve made decisions about FDLE’s priorities and budget requests based on a personal relationship with the Governor. This is not true.
I recently decided to move the protective operations unit, and the Chief now reports directly to me. This was my decision and not the Governor ‘s. Throughout FDLE’s history, protective operations have been housed within various divisions but the supervisor has always had a direct line of communication to the Commissioner. I have always felt protective operations should report directly to the Commissioner because of its importance.
The article states FDLE’s legislative budget request included 66 full-time positions for public integrity investigations at a cost of $64 million dollars. This is inaccurate. Our budget request for this item totals $8.4 million. Our total legislative budget request, which is a matter of public record, is $35.7 million.
I am working with the Governor, Cabinet, lawmakers and Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones to amend the specific portion of the request referencing agents investigating prison use of force cases. FDLE has not eliminated this LBR item and I continue to seek funding to manage investigative workload associated with increasing requests on use of force cases.
As a 30-year veteran of FDLE, my focus is on public safety and the 1,800 men and women of FDLE. Our members deserve a Commissioner who will advocate for this agency and their needs. This is what I will do as the Commissioner of FDLE.