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Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd celebrates 50 years in law enforcement

Sheriff Grady Judd has been with the sheriff's office since 1972.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Fifty years in any job is an accomplishment, and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is celebrating his five decades in law enforcement this month. 

According to the sheriff's office, Judd started his illustrious career with the Polk County Sheriff's Office in 1972 as a dispatcher. In 1974, Judd transferred to the sheriff's office's patrol division, where he "quickly progressed through the ranks – holding every rank from Sergeant to Colonel." 

After 32 years with the sheriff's office, in 2004 Judd was "overwhelmingly" elected to serve as the county's sheriff. And it's a position he has held ever since.

“It’s hard to understand 50 years. You know, I wake up every day and do what I love,” the sheriff said during a recent one-on-one interview.

His voice was still a little gravelly after a weekend with his grandkids, but Judd said he wouldn’t have it any other way. Not in his personal life, and certainly not as sheriff.

“It’s a way of life. And I love it – every day,” he said.

Judd officially started his career on July 21, 1972, at the sheriff's office. He was just 18 years old. 

“At 22 I was a corporal. At 23 I was a sergeant. At 25 I was a lieutenant. At 27 I was a captain in charge of criminal investigations,” Judd said.

From the time he was a child, Judd says he knew he wanted to be in law enforcement.

“My mother had me a little policeman’s outfit when I was four years old that I would march around in. So, this is not what I do. It’s who I am,” he said.

Over the years, Judd has been recognized for his accomplishments — heading the Florida Sheriffs and Major County Sheriffs Associations of America.

But he considers his role in bringing changes after the deadly shooting in Parkland to be most important.

“Without a doubt,” Judd said. “The most meaningful thing I’ve ever been allowed to do outside of being sheriff is to serve on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas commission.”

Judd spoke about his soft spot for children, from nabbing online predators to taking local kids fishing each year. Most days, he says, he lives his dream job, but his toughest days have been dealing with the loss of deputies. Names on the agency’s memorial wall include his close friend T. A. Burnham in 1981.

“I think I was either a friend of or a supervisor of - or both - to almost everyone on that wall. That is a very difficult day,” Judd said.

Most other — better days — the sheriff is ready to deliver a memorable soundbite. Absolutely in his element, he says, during those trademark Grady Judd news conferences.

“I speak the truth. I just tell you what it is. You know, sometimes you may not like what I say, but it’s the truth,” Judd said.

And although his plain-spoken popularity has created opportunities and offers for higher political office, Judd says he’s not interested.

“There is no greater honor to meet him being the sheriff of the county. I don’t wanna be governor. I don’t want to be in the Senate. I don’t wanna be in the house. I want to be people’s sheriff,” he said. “You know, I don’t wanna sit in the stands and watch the game. I still wanna play the game. 

"I still wanna be a starter.”

Judd is also celebrating another golden anniversary milestone: 50 years with his wife and high school sweetheart, Marisa.

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