Eric Swanson, a former Delaware State Police official and criminal justice teacher, filed last week to run against Sheriff Robert Reed in November’s election. Reed has held the spot since 1998 and will seek re-election to his third term in November amid controversy about the duties of the sheriff’s office.
“I’ve been in public service my whole adult life,” Swanson said. “Once you’re out there working for the people, it’s hard to give up.”
Swanson served active duty in the Air Force from 1972 to 1976, before spending time in the Navy Reserves and with the Delaware National Guard’s 153rd Military Police in Delaware City.
After leaving the military, Swanson joined the Delaware State Police in September of 1979. Before retiring from the DSP in September of 1999, Swanson worked as a patrolman, in a criminal investigative unit, as an evidence technician and as part of the bomb squad.
Swanson received his associate’s degree in criminal justice from Delaware Technical and Community College. He then returned for his bachelor’s degree in human resource management from Wilmington College. After his state police retirement, he taught criminal justice at Sussex Technical High School in Georgetown.
He retired from his full-time teaching position in 2005 and now works as a private investigator from his Lewes home.
Swanson said he’s been considering running as the Democrat on the sheriff ticket for about a year, saying its “time for a common-sense choice to be put out there.”
As sheriff, Reed has caused controversy in the county and the state, saying that his office is granted law-enforcement powers by Delaware Code and the Delaware Constitution similar to those held by any other police department in the state. Swanson countered that argument, saying that the sheriff’s duties are mandated by County Council, which adamantly opposes Reed’s recent contentions about the law-enforcement powers of his office.
Reed considers that difference of opinion a plus for his re-election campaign.
“He’s stated that he’s going to work for the council, not the people. That’s the biggest difference between us,” Reed said of Swanson. “I’m elected by the people, and I’m accountable and answerable to the people — not council.”
According to Sussex County’s Web site at www.sussexcountyde.gov, the Sheriff’s Office “serves papers for the courts and holds Sheriff’s sales for non-payment of taxes, mortgage foreclosures plus all other court orders.”
The sheriff and his deputies also transport prisoners, according to a letter Reed recently sent to Sussex County Council.
“I have no problem with (Reed),” Swanson said, but “whatever the council decides your job is, that’s what you have to do. There is always bickering back and forth between the council, him. There has to be a team effort there.”
Reed also accused Swanson of running because Swanson is a friend of Rep. Pete Schwartzkoph (D–Rehoboth), a former state police official who introduced two bills in the General Assembly to have wording in the code clarified to solidify the civil duties of the sheriff’s office. The bills — HB 458 and HB 459 — never reached the House floor for a vote.
“He’s a nice guy, but I think the reasons he’s running are not the right reasons,” Reed said, referring to Swanson as “Schwartzkoph’s buddy.”
Swanson said that he had previously worked with the state representative and is a friend of Schwartzkoph’s, but he said that didn’t factor into his decision to run for sheriff.
“I’m friends with a lot of people,” Swanson said. “I’m sure (Reed) is friends with a lot of people, too. But this has nothing to do with Mr. Schwartzkoph. It’s my decision.”