PCPD’s new Chief of Police, James Bradford, hopes to increase transparency, continue to build a bridge between the department and the community and leave a legacy of “leading from the front” during his time at the helm.
Plant City’s new Chief of Police has spent his first month on the job getting to know the community and learning the nuances of PCPD.
James Bradford was hired mid-November to fill the role of chief following Chief Ed Duncan’s announcement that he planned to retire at the end of 2020. There were more than 80 applicants for the position and after it was narrowed down to four, the city hosted a public meet-and-greet with each candidate. City Manager Bill McDaniel made his decision a few days later.
Bradford has been the chief full-time for two weeks now and spent the prior two weeks in a transition period where Chief Duncan helped ease him into the role. Bradford’s investiture ceremony was on Dec. 14 outside City Hall around the flag pole.
Now that he’s fully in the role, Bradford said his goal is to spend the first 60 to 90 days assessing where the department is so he can develop a detailed plan of where and how he hopes it can evolve and grow.
“Chief Duncan did an incredible job bringing this department further along the path of being a professional organization that anyone would be proud to work at,” Bradford said. “Under his leadership he boosted morale, he furthered the accreditation of the department and he made sure that there was a solid bridge between the community and its officers. I’m blessed to have been given a well-run department — you don’t see that everywhere — so my focus is going to be to maintain the level of excellence that is currently in place and then look for improvements as time goes by to make it even better.”
During his 31-year career in law enforcement, Bradford said he has worked in a wide variety of positions ranging from patrol to investigations to eventually being over major crimes. Because of that, he believes he will be able to bring an all-encompassing outlook to the department. But he’s also aware that there is much to learn.
A large reason why Duncan chose to retire last year was because several of the command staff at PCPD plan to retire soon. He wanted the new chief to have the opportunity to learn from the decades of experience each of those officers has to share.
Bradford said the command staff quickly took him under their wings and he has been honored to learn from them. In his opinion, the “what” and “how” of their choices and actions is important but the “why” is where he learns the most. In some instances, he said he has to change his perspective — which largely is based on his years with HCSO — on how the department is run, how the city is run and how the community functions as a whole. The command staff has been his “bedrock” and he said they have all taken the time to share their knowledge and experiences with him, which he feels will only help further his foundation as he begins this career.
“Since my arrival on day one, hour one, minute one, I was welcomed with open arms,” Bradford said. “This department, they’ve accepted me as one of their own since the beginning. And I think the community knows the level of quality that this department has on every level. It’s good to know that every man and woman at PCPD, whether they are sworn officers or staff another department, they are all dedicated to providing the best service.”
While he transitions to the role as chief, he added that he knows the department is transitioning to adapt to his style of leadership as well. He’s had several meetings with the staff on nearly all levels of the department to share his expectations. There has been a layer of ease in that journey, though, because he believes he and Chief Duncan’s expectations and goals were very similar.
One of the major focuses he has for the department is to increase its community presence. That means he won’t sit behind his desk all day long. He intends to be visible in the community and get to know the residents that call this city home. He has already begun reaching out to organizations like the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club to get on their schedules to speak with members and further his community connections.
In a perfect world, Bradford said, he would have liked to have had a large open house for the public to come get to know him and share their thoughts on Plant City and PCPD. However, due to COVID-19, any large gathering will have to wait. He added they were looking for an alternative to accomplish the same goal without putting anyone at risk.
However, he said he hopes to make sure the public knows his phone line is always open.
Accommodating for growth
Plant City is growing at a rapid rate. With all the new residential communities, new business sectors and the industrial boom, there will soon be a massive spike in population for the city. However, the number of officers with PCPD has remained relatively stagnant over the last few decades.
Bradford said the city’s tagline, “Preserving the past and embracing the future,” sums up the mindset he has for the department. He wants his department to maintain a healthy and open relationship with the community to keep that small-town charm while also being aware of the present challenges like the massive growth on the horizon.
It comes down to a two-pronged approach, Bradford said. First there is the practical/physical approach and then there is the organizational approach.
The practical/physical prong is simple: the department needs more staff. It’s a concern Duncan had. It’s a concern McDaniel is aware of. And it’s a concern that has already been the foundation of many conversations these first few weeks of Bradford’s reign. He said that he trusts McDaniel’s vision for the city and believes the issue is on the city manager’s radar. In the meantime, Bradford said it is important the department work smarter and not harder.
Observations, suggestions and ideas typically come from the command staff down to the squads. However, that conversation needs to flow both ways as some of the younger members of the department may see things the rest of the staff do not.
When population grows, calls for service, traffic and the overall quality of life are going to rise quickly. People tend to look to the police to manage the influx of residents and all of the problems that come with it.
The organizational prong will rely heavily on a strong and open line of communication throughout the department. There will also need to be a conscious and deliberate assessment of the entire staff for signs of burnout. Bradford said he will make that a priority because he believes there are things the department as a whole can do, once those signs are identified, to rebalance the workload and make sure everyone performs at the highest level.
The national dialogue surrounding the police all points back to two themes: transparency and accountability. Bradford said PCPD has a reputation for being transparent and he hopes to further that reputation under his leadership.
The body camera pilot program is in the works now and Bradford said they are entering the second evaluation period. HCSO was testing and evaluating cameras while Bradford was still with the department. He said he plans to take what he learned from that process and apply it to the conversation PCPD and the city will have to find the best fit here. Bradford simply said, “I think it’s a good thing” and that he is looking forward to hearing the feedback of those testing the proposed equipment now.
He also believes PCPD could improve its social media presence and has plans in the work on how to better utilize their platforms. The goal is to increase that bridge between the community and PCPD by making sure the public knows what is going on around town. If there’s an accident or if a train breaks down, posting to social media quickly spreads the word. Bradford also wants to use the platform to give a “behind the badge” look at some of PCPD’s officers.
When all is said and done, Bradford hopes he is remembered for “leading from the front.” He wants to use his time as chief to maintain the example set before his as well as improve on the working conditions for his officers. He said police work is really all he’s ever known and he hopes that he can continue to make PCPD the best place to work for those who feel this is their calling.
Bradford said he wants to make sure he is known for being a chief who is easy to reach and takes every concern — no matter how great or small — seriously. His phone is always on and he said he is looking forward to get to know even more about what makes Plant City special.