2015-01-20 / Front Page

First Sergeant Swafford Retires After 34 Years With Indiana DNR

by Michael Stanley
Staff Writer

Mike Swafford of Spencer recently retired after 34 years of service as a conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. First Sergeant Swafford served as Assistant District Commander for District 5. (Courtesy Photo) Mike Swafford of Spencer recently retired after 34 years of service as a conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. First Sergeant Swafford served as Assistant District Commander for District 5. (Courtesy Photo) A nearly four-decade career in law enforcement came to an end for First Sergeant Mike Swafford at the close of 2014.

Swafford, a veteran Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officer, also served as Assistant Commander for District Five, supervising officers in Owen, Greene, Sullivan, Clay, Vigo, Putnam, Park, and Vermillion counties.

Swafford began his career in 1976 at the age of 21, serving as one of the first reserve deputies for the Owen County Sheriff’s Department under the command of Sheriff Bob Mason.

“That was the beginning of the sheriff’s reserves, so I was in the first group of reserve officers in the county. I did that for four years and then applied to become a conservation officer in 1980,” Swafford said. “Those four years with the reserves gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of different officers, work with state police and conservation officers – it kind of gave me an insight into what conservation officers did and I thought it was something I really wanted to do.”

A certified instructor in firearms and defensive tactics, Swafford spent the last 12 years serving as a First Sergeant and Assis- tant District Commander.

“I worked in our covert section on two different occasions, so that sent me all over the state, working in different areas. It was fun,” he noted. “I worked the field for 18 years and then got into our training section, where I was promoted to sergeant in 1998. We trained all of the conservation officers in the state in firearms, defensive tactics, and emergency driving. I did that for a couple of years and then the first sergeant’s position became open here in District 5, so I applied and was promoted.”

Swafford said he was drawn to a career as a conservation officer after seeing how their duties can differ with the changing seasons.

“There’s a lot of diversity and the job changes with the seasons. You’ve got the hunting seasons in the fall, then the recreational stuff that comes up in the spring and summertime,” he said. “You deal with various things, whether it’s fish and wildlife cases, environmental cases, or criminal cases. We’re being asked to deal with more and more criminal issues, which is okay, but it does get away from the fish and wildlife things that we need to do too because conservation officers are really the only people who deal with those issues, along with the boating laws. We try to keep a balance and sometimes that’s hard to do, especially with as few officers as we have – there are only 215 and maybe 150 of those are field people, the rest are staff. There’s a lot more administrative things we do as well.”

When asked if he had any words of wisdom to share with future officers, Swafford said, “The one thing I’ve tried to impress upon guys who have worked under me or with me is, as you go through your career you have to treat people the way you want to be treated. You want to try to do the right thing and always try to do your best. I’ve tried to impress upon the younger guys that most of the people you deal with aren’t criminals. They’re really good people who just made a mistake. The quicker you can make that person realize that you understand that, the better you’re going to get along with that person. Not everybody is bad and you can’t just go into your job with that impression. People make mistakes, you deal with them and go on. As a law enforcement officer, if you can realize and understand that, you’re going to get a lot more respect from the public.”

Swafford noted it’s the daily interaction he had with the public while in uniform that he’ll miss the most.

“When you’re in a uniform, you’re more approachable or at least you feel more at ease talking to people. I’ve always tried to do that, whether it’s while I’m pumping gas or getting a pop at Casey’s General Store or Circle K. If people are there, I try to talk to them, because that may be the only opportunity they have to talk to you,” he said.

Although retired from the daily workforce, Swafford currently works parttime as a security guard at IU Health-Bloomington Hospital.

“I’d like to get more involved in some of the community activities in the county,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll be able to stay busy.”

A retirement open house will be held in Swafford’s honor on Sunday, February 8, beginning at 2:00 p.m. in the banquet room at Rolling Meadows Golf Course, located south of Gosport. Everyone is welcome to attend.

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