FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, whose surprise appointment followed the secretly orchestrated ouster of his predecessor, Gerald Bailey, cruised through his first Senate confirmation hearing Monday. After a series of questions, mostly about FDLE's role in investigating deaths and serious injuries in state prisons, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously to confirm him.
"I did not inherit a broken agency," Swearingen told senators.
Swearingen said a written agreement between FDLE and the Department of Corrections had led to "more and more calls" about incidents in prisons, but he did not elaborate. He also cited violations of time provisions in the agreement that requires incidents to be reported within 30 minutes, first by a DOC employee to DOC's inspector general, and in turn by the inspector general to FDLE. He said the delays are being investigated because the agreement includes administrative penalties for violations.
Swearingen said FDLE wants 17 more full-time employees for prison death investigations and said the agency is "absolutely prepared and capable" to fulfill that role. He did not address the Senate proposal for an independent oversight board to monitor the prison system.
Prodded by Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, who alluded to "some of the things that have happened," Swearingen declared his independence and said he will hold regular meetings with all four of his bosses, Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members. He said he has asked the Legislature for money in areas that Scott did not include in his proposed budget, and that no one from Scott's office has questioned that.
"I understand the importance of being an independent agency," Swearingen testified. "There are times when we're going to be asked to conduct investigations."