Ocean County’s newest Prosecutor traces his roots back to OCC
“If I had a good arm, I could hit my old high school from here,” says Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer, gesturing to the windows behind him. “Having roots in this community means a lot to me.” Billhimer grew up, studied, worked, got married, and chose to raise his family in Ocean County – and now finds himself in the unique position of keeping it safe. “I’m the top law enforcement officer in Ocean County. It still sounds crazy when I say it out loud.”
Billhimer’s path to the prosecutor’s office crisscrossed the state and region but ultimately began and ended in Ocean County. He grew up in Toms River and graduated from Toms River High School South in 1988 after being elected class president all four years – a feat which impressed some unexpected people.
“When I interviewed with the governor for this job, the first thing he said was ‘am I to understand you were class president four years in a row? That’s hard to do!’ I still don’t know how he heard about that,” says Billhimer.
Upon graduation from high school, Billhimer registered for classes at Ocean County College. “My parents were divorced. My father lived in Maryland, and my brother moved to Florida. My mother stayed here. I didn’t want to leave her alone, so that was a big part of my decision-making process.”
Figuring It Out
Like many college freshmen, Billhimer wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in life and began studying as a liberal arts major. “I still remember my great professors,” says Billhimer. “Dave Wolfe, my psychology professor, was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.” Wolfe now serves as the representative for the 10th Legislative District in the New Jersey General Assembly. During his years at OCC, Billhimer took an interest in psychology and broadcast and had a one-hour radio slot on the OCC radio station. “My one hour on the radio was the best hour of my week.”
It wasn’t until Billhimer graduated with his associate degree and enrolled at Stockton University that his interest in political science and criminal justice piqued. He interned with Senator Frank Lautenberg in Washington, D.C., graduated from Stockton, and worked various odd jobs until enrolling in law school at Widener University in Wilmington, Delaware. “At that point, I was committed to a career in law,” says Billhimer.
After graduating from law school, Billhimer worked his way through the ranks of the criminal justice system – first, a clerkship with the Honorable Barbara Ann Villano, J.S.C., then an associate at a law firm. Billhimer spent a decade as a criminal defense attorney before opening his own practice in 2010.
However, it was in 2005 when Billhimer’s path crossed Ocean County College once again. He was approached by Bonnie Peterson, a former municipal court prosecutor and adjunct professor at OCC, and was asked to take over her class teaching Criminal Law and Procedure. “I was happy to teach a class on my lunch break and enjoyed it as much as practicing law,” says Billhimer. “I loved teaching law to students using life experiences and providing a factual and legal perspective to my students.”
His students appreciated this style as well. “My class was always full – and I didn’t know there was a rule you could only have 34 students! That got me into trouble sometimes.”
A 24/7 Job
In September 2018, Billhimer moved on from teaching and was appointed and confirmed as Ocean County Prosecutor. Suddenly, his career path, and his priorities changed dramatically. “I’m a two-phone guy now,” says Billhimer, motioning to the smartphones on his desk as they lit up with new notifications. “I am duty-bound to protect the safety, security, and quality of life of all the people here in Ocean County. It’s a 24/7 job.”
As Ocean County Prosecutor, Billhimer has several major goals. “We’re making inroads against the opioid problem in Ocean County,” says Billhimer. “We’ve stepped up enforcement and gotten better at sharing more intelligence. We’re also working harder on drug education in school and trying to reach kids when they’re younger. We are trying to make a connection before the addiction instead of combatting the addiction.”
Protecting Ocean County families and children is another major priority for Prosecutor Billhimer. “There are lots of services here people just don’t know about. We’re working on a Cares Program to track and intervene on behalf of students suffering from adverse experiences at home. The Care Program will create a notification system between schools and police departments to address trauma with counseling and support.” Billhimer’s office will be the first in New Jersey to roll out this initiative at the county level after successful, yet small, pilot programs across the state.
A Future Return?
Billhimer’s path may cross Ocean County College again soon. “I miss teaching. I visit OCC often for events and get to experience the campus now more than ever. I would love to come back. It’s like an undiscovered gem.”
His advice for prospective students? “OCC is a great place to figure it all out. You’re not going to find a better place to get an education than OCC.”