Editor’s Note: This is the third of a four-part series profiling the candidates for Merced County sheriff.
Frank Swiggart has wanted to be the Merced County sheriff since his first day on the job more than 20 years ago.
The Merced County native said he won’t need three or four terms to fix the problems he sees at the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, but that he’s prepared to be the sheriff for nearly two decades.
At 47, Swiggart’s relative youth compared with his opponents has been a significant portion of his campaign stump speech.
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“I have the next 12 to 16 years or even 20 before I even consider the word ‘retirement’,” Swiggart said. “I’m a long-term investment.”
Swiggart has spent his career with the Sheriff’s Department and points to his three years of experience running the Merced Community College District Police Department as evidence he’s ready to manage the county’s largest law enforcement agency.
If elected, Swiggart said he would address the county’s increasing gang violence and homicides by reworking the department’s patrol shift scheduling. Swiggart said one of the issues that led to a record-breaking year for murders in the county in 2013 was a lack of cooperation from the public during homicide investigations.
“That’s the issue of trust between the department and the community,” he said. “We need to have deputies working the same beats every day to get to know those communities and to build that trust back up.”
Swiggart said he believes the department is spread too thin on special assignments and that he would consider reassigning deputies. Although he said it was too early to comment on specific areas or projects he would cut, he did say he would consider removing a deputy from the county gang task force.
“I’d say that’s a very good possibility. If we have to pull out of the task force to focus on the needs of the department, we could look at that and then, as things improve, we’d look at getting back into the task force,” he said.
He said he would “absolutely” implement a gang task force at the department, but that it was too early to provide a timetable for establishing the unit.
Addressing issues at the county jails would be among his top priorities, and he pledged to look for both short- and long-term solutions.
“We have issues there now, today, that need to be addressed,” Swiggart said. “The current administration is taking some steps to address those issues. Whether it’s hardening the roof and walls to adding cameras and technology to improve safety, those are things that need to get done.”
Swiggart said long-term solutions would include seeking state and federal funding to build a new jail in Merced County, which he said is desperately needed.
Additionally, Swiggart said he would like all correctional officers to have concealed-carry weapon permits to defend themselves when off duty.
Swiggart downplayed the importance of endorsements in the campaign after failing to obtain endorsements from any of the major law enforcement unions. However, he’s generated significant fundraising support and endorsements from the business community.
Swiggart said he believes Merced County voters want a sheriff in place for the long term and does not believe that two decades is too long to be on top.
WEDNESDAY: A profile of candidate Vern Warnke.