Joseph "Joe" Swanson is a macho paraplegic police officer in the Quahog Police Department who is at many times subject to intense anger problems. He is married to Bonnie Swanson and has two children; Susie and Kevin.
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 family.
Joe received his paralyzing injury one year on Christmas. He was investigating a robbery at an orphanage in "A Hero Sits Next Door", 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 later revealed that he really was shot by Bobby Briggs when undercover at his heroin lab when he found out he was a cop in "Joe's Revenge". He would admit in the same episode that his previous story was a lie. He regained movement of his legs for a brief time in "And the Wiener is...", but his son, Kevin, accidentally ran into him, re-paralyzing him. In "Believe It 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 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. An example of this is 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 in "The Fat Guy Strangler".
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 It 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. However, Joe is not unbeatable. While controlling the Crippletron in "No Meals on Wheels", he was taken down by Stewie Griffin at least in part due to his small size and agility. In "Joe's Revenge, he lost the upper hand in a fight to Bobby Briggs, and only managed to recover through quick thinking on his part.
He is the only person on Spooner Street who actually pays for his family's cable.
The only immediate Griffins Joe has not arrested yet are Brian, Stewie and Chris. 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 "Burning Down the Bayit" he arrests Peter on charges of arson and arrested Lois for shoplifting in "Breaking Out is Hard to Do". Brian has been arrested for pot possession in "420", and although Joe was not the arresting officer, he did have to submit Brian to a random urine test.
In each part of Laugh It Up Fuzzball: The Family Guy 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, as they share immobility without aid from other sources.
- He actually used his legs by swinging them to kick a kid/midget in "The Thin White Line".
- His legs moved involuntarily in "The Juice Is Loose" during the pillow fight scene.
- Joe forms the head of the Voltron-like Crippletron.
- In "Love Thy Trophy", he briefly stands unassisted as a continuity goof.
- In "Three Kings" Joe's legs are damaged three times
- In Stand By Me his legs get run over by two trains,
- In Misery he gets shot in the legs and then killed by Stewie,
- In The Shawshank Redemption his legs were beaten by cops with nightsticks.
- In "Peter's Progress", Joe is said to have been an octopus in a past life, and the octopus had its legs eaten off by a shark. Fortunately for the Octopus-Joe, the severed legs of an octopus can grow back, another reference to his legs.
- In "Petergeist" Joe has a home theater he calls Joe Swanson Theatres which sequence is a parody of Tri Star Pictures.
- In "The Hand That Rocks the Wheelchair" Joe is shown to have received many phone calls from Peter insulting him about his disability, though Joe cannot figure out who it is.
- In "Brian the Bachelor" he uses his leg to put out some burning excrement in a bag. While smelling his legs, he shouts "Dooty!"; to this Bonnie replies, "Hang on, Joe. I'm doing the dishes; I'll change you in a minute".
- In "Friends of Peter G", Joe is seen driving up to the community center in a police car, yet still gets out on his wheelchair to enter the building without the need to retrieve it from the back or passenger seat.
- Peter shoots out Joe's eye in "Lottery Fever"; Joe later replaces it with a glass eye.
- Joe dresses as Neptune as part of Peter's plan to reunite Billy Finn with his wife Joanne in "Be Careful What You Fish For".
- To escape Peter and Evelyn at the Drunken Clam in "Mom's the Word", Joe announces that he was saving the very last time he could walk for Susie's wedding day but uses it to leave them instead.