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USF and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office collaborate on a digital archive

A dark blue disk that looks like a vinyl record sits on top of documents, including a mug shot inside of an open manila folder.
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The audio disk of Henry Trafficante being interrogated alongside Santo Trafficante Jr.'s mugshot.

Mugshots, testimonies, jail intake ledgers and crime scene photos are among the items showcased in the project.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is collaborating with the University of South Florida to create a digital database to preserve around 100,000 historical artifacts.

Mugshots, testimonies, jail intake ledgers and crime scene photos are among the items showcased in the project. The collection spans from the late 19th century to the 1990s.

Professor Davide Tanasi is director of USF’s Institute for Digital Exploration (IDEx), which is leading the curation process. He emphasized the archive’s academic usefulness.

“I immediately recognize the tremendous value that this collection has to reconstruct, especially troubled years like the (1950s), the 60s, the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the Tampa Bay area,” said Tanasi. “There's certainly a lot of interest from the public and among scholars for it.

“So, it was hard work, but we were doing it eagerly because this collection deserves to be shared with everybody.”

Among other notable entries, the database includes the mugshot of mobster Santo Trafficante Jr. and documents pertaining to the Trafficante crime syndicate.

A recording of Trafficante’s brother, Henry, on what looks like a small blue vinyl album is also in the collection.

“We have found one of them with the very first interrogation of Henry Trafficante. And we are working to extrapolate the audio from it,” said Tanasi. “So, we will hear for the first time, not just the voice of this notorious mobster, but we will also hear firsthand the interrogation techniques that the sheriff deputies used."

The case files of serial killers Oscar Ray Bolin and Bobby Joe Long were also digitized.

Given that many of the artifacts are fragile, there is a likelihood that they will become illegible in the next 20 years. Project officials said this kind of preservation ensures that future scholars have access to them.

The catalog also reveals decades of history that have gradually accumulated within the training division of the sheriff’s office. It contains documents detailing investigative techniques used in the past, providing viewers with a better understanding of how law enforcement operated and evolved.

 A researcher is sitting in a rolling chair at a desktop computer next to paper documents. The researcher is looking at a mugshot on the computer screen with their back towards the camera.
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A researcher reviews Henry Trafficante's mugshot.

"This collaboration marks a critical step forward in securing the history of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a news release. “By digitizing our historical records, we safeguard valuable information and details about those who served this community.”

Once complete, the digital archive will be available for public viewing at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s History Center in Ybor City.

In addition to the digital repository, almost 80 items, including vintage uniforms and equipment, have been selected for display in a three-dimensional virtual tour of the History Center that was created using digital imaging technology.

A person in a tie holds up a scanner above a mannequin wearing a green Sheriff's uniform. There is another mannequin in a different uniform behind them and a large Sheriff's star on the wall. They are surrounded by other memorabilia such as hats and documents.
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A uniform being scanned for the collection.

Ari Angelo is a WUSF-USF Zimmerman Rush Family Digital News intern for spring of 2024.