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An inside look at the process to preserve thousands of items | Video by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

USF partners with Hillsborough County Sheriff鈥檚 Office to preserve more than a century of law enforcement history

By: Cassidy Delamarter, University Communications and Marketing

USF鈥檚 internationally recognized Institute for Digital Exploration is helping the Hillsborough County Sheriff鈥檚 Office preserve more than 80,000 items that date back to the late 19th century 鈥 some for historical purposes, others than can hold the key to solving crime.

The project led by Davide Tanasi, professor and director of the Institute for Digital Exploration, involved digitalizing, categorizing and archiving a range of items such as testimonies, jail intake ledgers, mugshots and crime scene photos. The digitized items were entered into a centralized database designed to make it easier for law enforcement to search, cross-reference and analyze. 

"This collaboration marks a critical step forward in securing the history of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office,鈥 Sheriff Chad Chronister said. 鈥淏y digitizing our historical records, we safeguard valuable information and details about those who served this community. This improved access to data may even enhance our investigative capabilities, potentially opening doors in cold cases and bringing closure to families. This project is not just about efficiency; it's about delivering justice and ensuring a safer future for all.鈥

  • Detective notebook from the 1930s

  • Employee log from the 1970s

  • The Institute applies 3D digital techniques to scan objects, such as the radio and campaign hat.

  • Newspaper clippings used by detectives in the late 1940s to track county activity

In addition to serving as an invaluable resource for investigating cold cases, the collection reveals an in-depth history of the Sheriff鈥檚 Office鈥檚 training procedures, facilities and employees, including John Cacciatore, a major who solved several murders and violent crimes before the 1990s.

鈥淎lthough people like him never went in history books, they were protagonists of decades of history in Tampa and the county,鈥 Tanasi said. 鈥淣ow all their incredible professional accomplishments have finally emerged piece by piece from this archive. It鈥檚 allowed our community鈥檚 unsung heroes to finally find their voices.鈥

mugshot of Santo Trafficante Jr.

Original mugshot of Santo Trafficante Jr. 

The archive also provides new insight on the troubled years from the late 1940s through the 1960s. Among the documents were records on Bolita, Tampa鈥檚 illegal lottery; organized crime, including the Trafficante crime family; and the original mugshot of Santo Trafficante Jr. It also includes the case files of serial killers Oscar Ray Bolin and Bobby Joe Long. 

With some of the records being a century old, their fragile state required diligent handling. 

鈥淪ome were close to disintegrating from their age and exposure to insects, bugs and moisture over the years,鈥 said Sarah Hassam, project manager for the Institute for Digital Exploration. 鈥淎 lot of these documents are friable in 20 years, meaning they might become dust and illegible, but now we have digital copies of them for future research and continuity of care of records.鈥

For lab manager and Tampa native Lisa Shorts, it was an honor to be a part of this project. 鈥淚t is really fulfilling, rewarding work being able to help preserve so many important moments in the history of our own community.鈥

In addition to digitizing the archival collection, the team scanned 78 historical artifacts with advanced digital imaging technologies to produce a three-dimensional online collection of vintage uniforms and equipment. They also created a of the Hillsborough County Sheriff鈥檚 History Center in Ybor City. The online collection and virtual tour will increase accessibility to the historical artifacts.  

Once the project is complete, the digital archive will be available for the public to view at the History Center.

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