NEWBERRY — On June 30, Police Chief Jackie Swindler will retire having served 38 years with the Newberry Police Department.
Born and raised in Saluda, Swindler graduated from Saluda High School in 1975 and attended his first semester of college at Tri-County Tech in Pendleton.
It was then that Swindler learned that the Newberry Police Department was involved in a LEAP program — Law Enforcement Assistance Program — in which the department would pay for a certain amount of years of schooling if you would agree to be an officer for that same amount of years.
Through the program, Swindler attended his first two years of college at Piedmont Tech, later transferring to Newberry College. At the time, the two schools had a dual program to earn college credit. He received his associates degree in Criminal Justice from Piedmont Technical College and his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Newberry College.
Swindler came to work for the City of Newberry on Dec. 2, 1975, as a cadet. He was 18 years old at the time. Swindler said the position at the time, although called cadet, was an undercover position in which he bought drugs for the police department to catch criminals in action.
For a number of months Swindler said he did this before becoming an actual Police Cadet. In 1978, Swindler was commissioned as a full time officer.
One year later, Swindler said he was given the job of crime prevention officer, where he was responsible for doing programs and inspections with businesses and homes.
Around 1981, Swindler became an investigator for the department before being named Captain in 1991, and later his current job of Police Chief in 1993.
Throughout his 38 years in the department, Swindler has been involved in a variety of different cases, some easier than others.
“I’ve worked lots of different crimes from murders, robberies, child pornography, criminal sexual conduct,” Swindler said. “Unfortunately some sad and tragic things, so you deal with not only investigating crime but personally involved with families it affects.”
Swindler said he has also had to be involved in some fairly large federal drug cases and things of that nature.
“You see things, smell things, experience things that most humans never will or could,” he said.
Because the job is taxing not only on a person’s time, but emotions, Swindler said his coping mechanism is humor.
“You learn to kind of build up whatever mechanism you have,” Swindler said. “I try to laugh and find humor not in the tragic of situations but as a mechanism of dealing with them.”
Swindler said he believes in order to be successful at this type of job, you have to learn to separate yourself from those sorts of things.
From each position level that he’s held in the department, he said he has learned a new skill that has helped him build on his career as a police officer.
His first few years, Swindler said his travelled buying drugs which was an eye opening experience, not only on learning about different types of people, but learning how to communicate with them.
“With crime prevention, I did a lot of public speaking which has helped me be an affective public speaker,” Swindler said.
Swindler also feels fortunate to have worked with a department and area the size of Newberry because it has helped him be well versed in a variety of areas. One day he could be working with a property crime, the next, a violent crime against another person.
“Each step is a learning step and of course as Police Chief you wear a variety of different hats. You become a counselor to a variety of people in public to see if something can do to help them,” Swindler said. “It’s all a learning experience. I think you learn every day.”
A variety of hats
While working in Newberry, Swindler has had to wear a variety of different hats as police chief, covering many different types of cases. What he said has helped him tremendously are the types of people he works with and the department Newberry has.
Swindler said a good department is all about hiring the right people. A person who is outgoing, has people skills, is honest and has integrity, and a desire to serve is what Swindler said makes a good officer.
“You’ve got to be a person who has a servant attitude,” Swindler said. “It’s a very demanding job and is not for everyone. There are lots who think they’d like to do it, but are not cut out for it. It takes special people with special personalities.”
In 1984, Swindler said he felt fortunate to have been asked to attend the FBI Academy, which is designed for management and to prepare officers to be leaders in law enforcement.
Over the last number of years, Swindler has travelled to across the country to speak and give presentations in several states primarily on ethics and integrity. He has also spoken at schools about how to prepare themselves for their future career paths and what skills are important.
“It’s not only about reading and writing, but about personal things like keeping a clean record, good values, and a good work ethic,” Swindler said.
As a department, Swindler said he is proud of their many accomplishments together throughout his time there.
They have maintained the highest clearance rate which Swindler said is important, but have also won the safest traffic community for a number of years.
What Swindler said he is most proud of when it comes to Newberry’s police department is their personal touch that they provide to the citizens of Newberry. Swindler said they do things that he knows other departments in other counties have long stopped.
Whether it be funeral escorts or getting snakes and bats out of houses, Swindler said they do not turn anyone down.
“We don’t turn anybody down and say we don’t work that or it’s not big enough for us to work,” Swindler said.
On the personal side, Swindler said he is proud of his three degrees that he has obtained, while working full time. While at Newberry College through the department’s LEAP program, Swindler said he would work from 9:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. and then attend his 8 a.m. classes.
Swindler also received his Master’s in Criminal Justice from the University of South Carolina.
The vast majority of officers at Newberry Swindler said have several college degrees and advanced degrees as he feels you should work yourself through school to ensure that you are well-educated.
Swindler has also been awarded the State Police Officer year for state of SC, the Strom Thurmond award of excellence, and the inaugural Jackie Swindler award on ethics in law enforcement.
Since his beginning in law enforcement in 1975, the biggest changes Swindler said he has seen have been in technology. Swindler said communication now is amazing compared to what it used to be. He recalled how large the walkie-talkies were when he first arrived, as well as bag phones that are no longer around.
Suspects had to physically be matched to fingerprints found on a scene, where as now it has evolved to where things are in automated fingerprint system,and can be matched against millions that are on file in the state.
Technology such as the Nixle alert system, along with Facebook and other forms of social media Swindler said have also tremendously improved how they can inform the public.
Swindler said throughout all the changes, he cannot think of a better reason that he has been blessed other than the people he has met and had the opportunity to work with.
“I’ve been blessed to work with people I like,” Swindler said. “Not just because I work with them, but I genuinely like them.”
Although his plans for retirement have not been nailed into place, Swindler said he has been in communication with people about teaching and speaking.
“I have not sought another police job, but have interviewed jobs in teaching and speaking primarily in things that have to do with law enforcement, but not actually policing anymore,” Swindler said.
Swindler and his wife Sherry, have two boys — Jackson and Joshua. Jackson is 21 years old and is a senior at Newberry College, where he plays football for the Wolves.
Joshua, 18, just graduated from Mid-Carolina High School, where he also played football. Joshua plans to attend North Greenville University in the fall on a pole-vaulting scholarship.
Sherry is the guidance counselor at Little Mountain Elementary.
The City of Newberry will hold a retirement drop-in reception for Swindler from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. June 22 at the Newberry Firehouse Conference Center. Formal presentations will be at 4 p.m. Contact the City of Newberry at 803-321-1000 for more information.