This year will be one of fresh starts for the Harlem Department of Public Safety.
The department’s newly-hired director, David Sward, will soon move into the department’s new facility.
Sward was hired this month and took his place as the department’s leader Monday, Harlem City Manager Jason Rizner said.
“He’s got a lot of experience,” Rizner said. “We just felt like he was the right one to lead us forward.”
Sward was chosen from about 20 candidates and six finalists to replace the interim director, Benje Cowart, who took the job in September following the resignation of Jesse Bowman.
“I love it here so far,” Sward said. “It’s a small, quaint town. But I love it.”
Sward was a military police officer in the Army and a corrections officer. He resigned as chief deputy and investigator for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office in 2003 to pursue a private business venture in his home state of Mississippi.
But he wanted to get back into law enforcement.
“It’s a very interesting field,” Sward said. “That’s why I like it so much. Nothing is routine. Not even what you would call a routine call.
“There’s something different about each and every one of them. And I like the public contact that you have in law enforcement.”
Sward moved to Harlem in April and began working at the Regional Youth Detention Center in July.
“I want to improve what’s already being done,” Sward said of his future plans. “There’s always room for improvement. Hopefully, I can bring in some improvements to better serve the citizens of Harlem.”
Sward’s two sons also followed him into law enforcement. His eldest son, David, is a training officer at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. His youngest son, Michael, is an Army military police officer in Germany and served three tours in Iraq.
Sward said he likes the idea of working with a public safety department, rather than separated police and fire departments. He’ll soon start training for his firefighter certification.
He hopes to expand an existing, but not very active, community watch program.
“In law enforcement, we can’t be everywhere all the time,” Sward said. “With interaction with the general population and the citizens, it helps out tremendously.”
He also plans to carefully monitor the department budget, a contentious issue under former directors.
Sward said he’s spending his first days on the job getting settled in, getting to know the staff and reviewing and updating the department’s policies and procedures.
In a small office inside the department’s current headquarters building on North Louisville Street, Sward said he has to get used to his desk rumbling from the loud trains passing by outside his window.
The 50-year-old building is not big enough for the staff and records, but that problem will be solved by the summer when the new public safety building opens on West Milledgeville Road.
“It (the current building) is kind of small, but I guess it served a purpose for many years,” Sward said. “The new building is really nice.”
The $2.4 million renovation of the former Culpepper Ford building includes adding bays for fire trucks. The building will also include department offices, communications and dispatch staff, judges offices, and municipal court.
Construction is about two months ahead of schedule, said Rizner, who anticipates renovation of the building will be finished in March.