Lieutenant Mike Sawicki was not looking to change jobs when Capt. Jeff Corkhill told him about an opening for his position in Boca Grande. Mike (he is cool with being called “Mike” without the formality of titles) was happy being the supervisor of the Lee County Sheriff’s office for Captiva Island and a slew of other barrier islands off the county’s coast.
He and his family love that area and have been deeply committed to the community where they lived for the last 15 years. His children were both babies when the family first landed on Captiva. But Jeff Corkhill recommended him for the job anyway. And after ruminating on it for a short while, the Sawickis decided it would be a good time to open themselves to some new opportunities.
They came to check out Boca Grande and are all happy with the move, even though the kids, Sean, 16, and Kate, 15, are having to change schools, and wife Kirstin, will be farther from her condo management position in Fort Myers. They see the change as a new and interesting chapter. They all loved Boca Grande at first sight, and are looking forward to getting to know all their new neighbors.
Kirstin has worked largely from home since the pandemic, and the younger Sawickis are already excited about attending Lemon Bay High School.
“There’s a really great aesthetic and community vibe here,” Mike noted. “The town is beautiful and the people are just super friendly.” They all have a fondness for the beach and for the “old Florida” feel of the community.
“Everyone has been so welcoming to us,” Mike said. It also helped that on his first day of work here he stopped in at the Key Lime Bistro and was surprised to see a whole group of familiar faces. These are folks he knew from their sister restaurant in Captiva. That is a kind of touchstone that makes the transition even smoother.
Mike was born in Alexandria, Va. outside Washington, DC., and then moved to Annandale, in Fairfax County. As a teenager he worked for the county parks authority and became devoted to the outdoors. Even today, that is his “happy place,” being out in the fields and woods, usually with his dog, Penny and his falcon, Cisco. Yes, he is a licensed falconer, and spends many a happy hour hunting with his bird.
“I think of it as pro-active birdwatching,” he said, observing that most people see birds flying or perched on a power line or on a tree branch. With his falcon to stir things up in the wild animal kingdom, he can see them in many roles and situations, using their instincts and their patterns of protection and play that most people never have an opportunity to see.
He had planned to get a degree in ornithology, and was accepted into Cornell University’s ornithology program. Then circumstances made it more practical to choose an in-state college, and attended, instead, Virginia Tech, where he was a wildlife biology major.
As a college student he worked as a busboy at a nearby lodge, but then saw an ad for a civilian position with the college’s police department. It paid more, was on campus and turned out to be the beginning of a career in public service, and eventually in law enforcement.
While Mike continued to go to Virginia Tech off and on, and eventually graduated from that school, he also pursued police work in the area surrounding the school. He obtained a position as a deputy with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, where he stayed for about a year and a half. Then he moved on to the Blacksburg Police Department, where he was an officer for about five years. Each department had its own police academy, so Mike completed those studies, as well.
After his five years at the Blacksburg department, he and his wife decided they wanted a change. They liked the idea of Florida, especially the West Coast, where there was more open space and less development. In 2005, they fulfilled their wish and moved to Lee County, where Mike became a member of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. He initially worked in the detective division, and then moved into the Central Division, which includes Fort Myers, Tice, Dunbar, East Fort Myers — “An action-packed job assignment,” he acknowledged.
He recalled his most exciting and interesting case while in that position was apprehending a man leaving a motel room, carrying the woman he had just murdered, and then trying to load her into a car to dispose of her body. Mike is hopeful that no such incident will happen on his watch in Boca Grande, but if it does, he is ready.
Both Mike’s former post, in Captiva, and the current one, in Boca Grande, are low-crime areas, but that doesn’t mean he has nothing to do. On the contrary, it gives the “Men in Green” the chance to prevent crime, improve any rough spots that could escalate into law enforcement issues, and become an asset to the community in other ways.
“I give my phone number out to people. I hand out business cards to everybody. I invite people to call me. It really helps me to stay in tune with the community, and it also allows us to get at problems when they are small. In the long run, that partnership creates an environment where everybody is cooperative on community issues.”
Coming into the Boca Grande position, Mike is pleased that he already knows and is comfortable with the other three island deputies. All have worked with him in one previous assignment or another, so they are already in tune with one another and know his style of management and his deep interest in emphasizing the “community” aspect of “community policing.”
As for his connection with Capt. Jeff Corkhill, they had basically parallel positions for many years. They worked together or consulted with each other often. They both had large geographic areas to cover, including some difficult-to-reach areas on barrier islands. They both managed offices that responded to marine emergencies, as well as doing marine enforcement, in addition to their involvement in all aspects of their land-based duties. They are friends, as well as fellow law enforcers. Jeff worked in Boca Grande for 13 years, and Mike was on Captiva for 15. They had a lot of years of coordination, communication and cooperation.
“All of this makes for a pretty smooth transition,” Mike said. He is looking forward to getting to know everyone on the island and being considered a true member of the community.
“I am already familiar with the dynamic of several different island communities,” he noted. “I know a lot about golf carts — I know more about golf carts than I ever thought I would know! Same thing about a lot of beach and dune ordinances, laws and principles. I worked pretty closely with the erosion control district on Captiva, so all that is familiar to me.”
And his love for the outdoors has a perfect outlet as an “Island Coastal Resident Deputy,” which is the official title for those who work from posts on an island. He is the supervisor of the three other such deputies in Boca Grande.
There is a different vibe to policing from an island perspective, he said. It is not usually fast paced, but it does get deeply connected to the people and issues of the community, and gives the team a chance to be outdoors, protecting the surroundings, as well as helping people in a significant way.
“It kind of hearkens back to an era when you had a real community partnership between law enforcement and the community,” he said. “I really like that style of it. I like the way the department runs the resident deputy program. It brings value, because it serves all parties favorably.”
He went on: “It’s good for the deputy because you get to live out on a beautiful island and a great environment, around really nice people. It’s good for the community because they get a more bespoke level of police service. They know their neighborhood police officers and they can call on them. It’s kind of a ‘no problem too big, no problem too small’ solution to things — and it’s a cost-effective way to run these islands. If you had to have these additional staff, there would be a lot of overhead of personnel and equipment the community would have to bear. It’s one of those things where all the interests kind of align into a successful program.”
He also emphasized that the program allows for the deputies to become invested in the issues of the community. When crime or other problems arise, it is their neighbors who are affected, their own children at risk, their own parking problems and so forth. The connections grow deeper and more personal with deputies stationed close-at-hand, he said.
“We have a little more ‘skin in the game,’ when it comes to seeing things all the way to a positive conclusion,” he noted, adding that he really likes having that depth to his position. Besides the depth of involvement, Mike is grateful that he and the people on the island have the strength and resources of the entire Lee County Sheriff’s Office watching their backs, too. He sees it as having the best of both worlds.
When Mike is off duty, in addition to the falconry and general outdoor activities, he likes to scuba dive, and hopes to do more of it on Boca Grande. He is also a “very amateur” woodcarver, he said. He also hopes to do more biking.
In his Blacksburg department he rode his bike a lot. In fact he was on a full-time bike parol unit. Since his police department was in a college town, the department recognized that bike patrols were very effective in both stopping and preventing law breaking. In addition to the bike patrol, Mike was an academy instructor, a department recruiter, and was on the S.W.A.T. team, in Blacksburg. His versatility and interest in a variety of areas has proven to be an asset to his career and to the people he is working for.
Mike noted that throughout his career he has almost always left a job he really enjoyed and learned from, and moved into a position where he could continue to enjoy his work and grow even more. “Blacksburg was a stellar agency,” he said, “and still is. I keep in contact with some of those guys even now, 20 years later.” He knows he will do the same with Captiva, especially since he will retain some administrative responsibility for the Captiva office.
On Boca Grande, all the “resident deputies” must live close enough to respond quickly if an incident arises. The supervisor lives in a home on the island, that is owned by the Sheriff’s Department. This is different from other offices, including Captiva. He likes the arrangement.
“We just love the whole area down here. We enjoy the beach, go kayaking, fishing, so it’s a good place for us,” he said. He has met a lot of people — and their dogs. Quick to laugh, he remarked on how much people love their dogs here, and shares that with sentiment.
“I’ve been very impressed,” he said. “Everyone out here has been so nice and very, very welcoming.”