TAMPA — Jim Previtera has had an array of professional experiences in his 42 years.
He covered sports for newspapers. He helped build a highly touted sheriff's training program in Hillsborough County. He protected Vice President Dick Cheney for the Secret Service.
One thing Jim Previtera has never done is work in a jail.
But when Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee announced he was promoting Previtera from major to colonel overseeing jails, few questioned the move.
"He has no experience in detention, but I didn't either," said former jails chief Col. David Parrish, who retired last week after 27 years in the position.
Since joining the Sheriff's Office in 2005 as director of training, Previtera has established himself as an easy communicator and a progressive law enforcement thinker.
He was a leading force behind the design of a $2-million, 27,000-square-foot training center at Pinebrooke Business Park that has a battery of classrooms, a mock jail cell, backup 911 center and a 24-hour gym. Until then, deputies trained in portables and borrowed space from Tampa police and Hillsborough Community College.
When attention focused on how the jail staff treat inmates earlier this year, Previtera stepped up to address training in the proper use of force.
Jim Sewell, chairman of the Independent Review Commission on Hillsborough County Jails, said Tuesday he was impressed with the steps Previtera took after news broke that a deputy had dumped a quadriplegic inmate from his wheelchair.
Previtera contacted disabled advocacy groups to help revamp the agency's training curriculum.
"I think what he's done in training is phenomenal," Sewell said, praising Gee's decision.
Assuming command of the Falkenburg and Orient Road jails, which house an average of 4,000 inmates a day and employ 1,500 people, should bring an increase in Previtera's current $116,621 salary, though the sheriff's payroll records indicated no increase Tuesday, a sheriff's spokeswoman said.
A 1984 graduate of St. Petersburg Catholic High, Previtera holds a bachelor's in criminology from St. Leo College. Once an aspiring journalist, he wrote for the Evening Independent newspaper and later the St. Petersburg Times. But a police ride-along inspired him. He spent 11 years as a Pinellas County deputy before joining the Secret Service in January 1998.
As a Secret Service agent, he was part of the agency's training staff and also charged with protecting Cheney. But the constant travel meant he rarely saw his children, so when he heard of an opening in Hillsborough County, the father of four welcomed it.
Gee's decision to put Previtera over training made sense then. But even Previtera said he didn't anticipate this latest step.
"I didn't envision it," Previtera said Tuesday, after setting foot in the Orient Road Jail for the first time as colonel. "But I'm nonetheless humbled."
Parrish, the former jails chief, said that when he took charge of the jail in 1981, he too was new to detention — and he too had a training background.
"I think he'll do a very credible job," Parrish of Previtera. His interest in training means Previtera has a progressive attitude needed to keep the jails ahead of the curve, Parrish said.
Previtera said he was "nervous but confident" but said he was assuming the role with Gee's commission in mind.
"He said, 'Go out there and lead people — go out there and let them know that I care and you care and we are one organization, not two,' " Previtera said. "I'm going to have to prove to the men and the women that work here that I'm worthy of their confidence, worthy of their trust."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.