He is the fourth member of the group of buddies along with Peter, Quagmire, and Cleveland who live on Spooner Street. He met Peter when, after just moving into Quahog, the Happy Go Lucky Toy Factory needed a final member for their company baseball team. Peter knew that Joe had won many awards for playing baseball in the past; he did not know that Joe was paralyzed below the waist. However, as he does most of the time, Joe proved that this wasn't enough to stop him and he led the team to victory. He lives at 33 Spooner Street with his wife, Bonnie and baby daughter Susie.
Joe received his paralyzing injury one year on Christmas. He was investigating a robbery at an orphanage, and during a faceoff with the perpetrator, he slid off the roof tripping on a roller skate, injuring his spine and leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He regained movement of his legs for a brief time, but his son, Kevin, accidentally ran into him, re-paralyzing him. In "Believe or Not, Joe's Walking on Air", he could walk again. However, everyone starts losing faith in Joe, and he paralyzes himself. However, his handicap (though he wouldn't call it that) doesn't prevent him from serving on the police force or choreographing local musicals.
Joe has severe anger issues which often manifest in explosively violent outburst at random times throughout the show. A few notable examples of this are beating his son Kevin in a blind rage to the point Kevin had to live with a foster family, and shooting the left overs of his 16oz steak (then turning the gun on his friends) after being mocked for not being able to finish it. These outburst seem to stem from Joe's inability to cope with being handicapped and being mocked with the situations that stem from being so.
Joe is arguably the best hand to hand fighter in the entire show. Despite his condition, it has been seen on numerous occasions that he is able to completely overwhelm other characters who are accomplished fighters in their own right such as Lois Griffin, A Black Belt and Peter, known for long violent battles with Ernie the Giant Chicken. Joe has also shown the ability to easily take on multiple enemies at once such as his encounter a large number of armed midgets in "The Thin White Line" and Peter, Quagmire, and Cleveland in "Believe or Not, Joe's Walking on Air". In "Da Boom" it is shown that despite the lower part of his body being melted into his driveway, Joe is perfectly able to fight and defeat a giant mutated rat.
He is the only person on Spooner Street who actually pays for his family's cable.
In "Dog Gone", Peter dropped off an unconscious Consuela on his front porch. As usual, she needs more lemon Pledge. Joe promises to get her more lemon Pledge.
The only immediate Griffins he has not arrested yet are Stewie and Chris. However, Peter's arrest came in the simulation that is "Stewie kills Lois". In "Lois Kills Stewie", he pursues Stewie for attempted murder, however this too was only a simulation. He has in fact arrested Meg twice, in "Untitled Griffin Family History" and "Dial Meg for Murder".
In each part of Peter Griffin's own versions of the Star Wars trilogy, he plays a different character. In Blue Harvest, he played Biggs Darklighter, a member of the Rebel Alliance. In Something, Something, Something, Dark Side, he played an Imperial Probe Droid. In It's a Trap, he played Jabba the Hutt.
He was also the (former) secondary antagonist of the episode "Livin' on a Prayer", where he refused to help Lois save Scotty from his Christian Science parents, later he tried to stop Lois from saving Scotty herself and he nearly had her arrested for it.
"You got some nerve driving around my town with a busted headlight. And a busted windshield, and an untreated flesh wound. You swore an oath like me sheriff, to protect and serve not to harass and douche. Just because you have a badge doesn't mean you can treat people any way you like. And as a law enforcement professional you have more than the average man, not less. Now get the hell out of my town!"
"You three are under arrest for burning down Mort's pharmacy."
"You're under arrest for harboring an escaped convict."
"This is our business. You kidnapped our friend. You're going to jail."
"Now just hand me the gun Sonja."
"Like I said, you're going to jail."
"The gun was never loaded."
"YES! LOCK AND LOAD! LOCK AND LOAD!! BRING ON THE PAIN!!!!"
"I SAID I'M NOT HUNGRY!! WHERE IS IT NOW?! HUH?! WHERE IS IT NOW?!!!!"
- Bonnie Swanson (wife)
- Kevin Swanson (son)
- Susie Swanson (daughter born in episode "Ocean's Three and a Half")