USF Alum Fights Crime as Hillsborough County Colonel

By Dana Almasri

TAMPA Fla. – After 29 years as the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, a USF graduate now oversees the department of investigative services.

Col. James M. Bradford got a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in criminology and a minor in French. He is now part of the Alumni Association. He initially started out with a major in international studies so that he could work at the state department. But after studying abroad in Paris, he took a criminology class and he knew he wanted to pursue a major in the criminal justice field.

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The class piqued his interest. The interesting things that happen within the criminal justice system like policing made it even more appealing to Bradford to study criminology. Bradford was driven to pursue this path as he learned more about the criminal justice system.

In Bradford’s senior year at USF, he had an internship with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. He was able to experience what the sheriff’s office did. This included riding in a patrol car with deputies and responding to calls. He also shadowed deputies at his internship, which allowed him to learn what being a detective is like.

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“I actually worked alongside a jail deputy at the Morgan Street Jail in the booking area­­. At the time, I was working at Busch Gardens in security and applied at the sheriff’s office and a year out of college… I got hired at the sheriff’s office,” he said.

He started out working in patrol cars. After that, he was able to transition over to a street crime drug unit. In the 1980s, there was a big epidemic with crack cocaine and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office had units that addressed those issues. He was able to do that job well enough that he got promoted to be a detective. He was a detective for 10 years and worked burglaries, white collar crimes, robberies and homicide. He then transitioned to be a detective in the intelligence unit and got promoted again as a supervisor for patrol and detective units. Fifteen years later, he rose to the rank of colonel.

“I enjoyed it. It [was] a challenge because what I sought as I was pitting myself against the criminal. So, I would always try my best to solve those crimes and be one step ahead of whoever committed the crime in order to put them in jail and bring peace to the victims,” Bradford said.

Bradford was a detective for 10 years and worked burglaries, white collar crimes, robberies and homicide, such as the Dontae Morris case. Morris was convicted of killing two Hillsborough County Sheriffs in Tampa. Bradford then transitioned to be a detective in the intelligence unit and got promoted again as a supervisor for patrol and detective units. Fifteen years later, he is now the colonel.

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“I love every minute of it every day. I come to work, and I really enjoy the complexity of the job because you are able to figure out what is going on even from a command level. I can still provide some expertise to the detectives that work under my supervision,” Bradford said.

The professors at USF helped him understand what he was getting into.

“When I did my internship– it was about three months long and the support that I got from USF and the relationship that USF had with the sheriff’s office to do that internship really cemented that fact that I was in the right role and the career path that I was on was the right one for me and USF helped me get there,” Bradford said.