Florida Governor Rick Scott and members of the cabinet got an update on the status of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement from FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen. His position is up for review and next month he’ll be publicly interviewed by the cabinet. It’s part of a formal process all agency heads must now undergo following the controversial ouster of former FDLE head Gerald Bailey.
Tuesday Swearingen talked about the importance of the FDLE’s lab work. That’s something Attorney General Pam Bondi agrees with
“The lab is so crucial. It’s the core function really of what you do. I mean DNA on sex cases. DNA on homicide cases. Finger prints on homicide and all cases. They’re solving cold cases,” Bondi says.
But to keep that work up, Swearingen says the agency needs more lab workers and more places to put them.
“We have a regional operations center, our Pensacola facility that is literally crumbing. There are areas of the building that have been closed off to avoid injuries to members,” Swearingen says.
That comes as Swearingen says citizens across the state are losing a growing amount of trust in law enforcement officers. He wants his agency to take what he calls “proactive steps” to restore that trust
“You have to have a relationship with the community that you serve. I’ve met three times now with representation from the NAACP. The local chapter president here as well as the state president a couple of days ago after the Charleston shooting. If you don’t have those relationships on the front end, it’s too late when something happens,” Swearingen says.
Swearingen says he hopes to focus on engaging with the community. And he says the department will continue offering its services to other departments around the state for investigations into officer involved shootings or excessive use of force cases. And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says as the agency does that, it’s important that FDLE set an example for the rest of the state.
“And make sure that internally FDLE is providing the kind of leadership, meeting the accreditation standards and then some so that there is no question that your investigators when they’re reviewing those types of cases are above reproach,” Putnam says.
Swearingen also talked about the dangers the state face when it comes to terrorism. He says that’s something he’ll be keeping his eye on and is asking citizens to do the same and to report anything suspicious. The commissioner says accomplishing those goals will likely take a larger appropriation from the legislature. The newest budget has just been signed into law, but lawmakers are scheduled to look into the following year’s spending plan starting in September and Swearingen says he’ll be ready with a list of asks.