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Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner stepping down

Police officers on horseback ride on the beach as revelers spread out on the beach behind them.
Key West Police Department
A file photo of Key West officers patrolling the beach on horseback.

The head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is stepping down after 38 years with the agency.

Commissioner Rick Swearingen advised members of the agency on Friday he will leave the post this summer.

“While I have thoroughly enjoyed my 38 years with this agency, the time has come for FDLE to move in a new direction,” Swearingen wrote to agency members.

In the letter, Swearingen said his exit date is Sept. 1.

“This agency and its members have made me who I am today,” Swearingen wrote. “I look forward to personally saying goodbye to each of you in the coming months.”

Swearingen was tapped by then-Gov. Rick Scott in December 2014 to become commissioner after serving as director of the Capitol Police. In running the Capitol Police, Swearingen oversaw security at the Capitol Complex, including protective services for the governor and Scott’s family.

Scott, now a U.S. senator, issued a statement Friday thanking Swearingen and noting that he oversaw the state’s response to the mass shootings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, along with hurricanes and other emergencies.

“In each of these unimaginably difficult assignments, he served our state with the utmost professionalism,” Scott said

Swearingen joined FDLE in 1984 as a crime information input technician two years after graduating from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and political science. He later served in the agency’s Clearwater office and by 2010 was the assistant special agent in charge of the Capitol Police Protective Operations. Three years later, he headed the Capitol Police.

Swearingen’s appointment to the commissioner position was backed by the state Cabinet in January 2015, but he had to be reappointed a year later after he was among 16 agency heads who did not get Senate confirmation during the 2015 legislative session. He is paid $155,530 a year.

Swearingen’s replacement will face a slightly different path to the job.

A new law (SB 1658) changed the approval process for appointments of the FDLE commissioner, the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and the executive director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

The law changed the appointment of the FDLE commissioner from needing the approval of all three Cabinet members to a majority vote of the governor and the Cabinet, with the governor on the prevailing side. The appointment will still need Senate approval.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the law on March 10, a day before Senate confirmation of Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. The law was crafted after a clash last year between DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried over DeSantis’ decision to appoint Hamilton without Cabinet approval.

Fried issued a statement Friday that said she respects Swearingen but suggested his departure isn’t a “coincidence” after approval of the new law, which effectively boosted DeSantis’ power in the appointment process.

“There are no coincidences when it comes to the DeSantis administration,” said Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor.

DeSantis and the Cabinet will meet Tuesday for the first time since September.

News Service of Florida
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