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Versatile Branscum ends record-setting detective career

By Jeff Gallatin

North Olmsted

Record-setting North Olmsted Detective Bud Branscum has retired after
using his versatility to aid the city police and other area law enforcement agencies for 27 years.

Branscum moved to Georgia earlier this month after 27 years on the North Olmsted Police Department, serving the last 22 as a member of the detective bureau. In addition to his work in North Olmsted, he worked closely with the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office and other law enforcement agencies on a wide range of cases and as a polygraph operator through the years.

North Olmsted police Chief Jamie Gallagher said Branscum’s 22 years of consecutive service as a detective is believed to be the longest such streak in department history.

Gallagher, who was a supervisor for Branscum in his early years as a uniformed officer as well as one of several detective bureau commanders Branscum has had, said it was clear from the beginning of his career Branscum had the ability to solve a variety of different cases.

“You could see Bud had a knack for asking the right questions and being able to determine what had happened,” Gallagher said. “Even as a young uniformed patrol officer, whether it was an auto accident or some other incident, he could usually sort things out quickly and treat people in a good, professional way.

He’s done a lot of things in life and that wide-ranging experience has certainly helped all of us.”

Branscum himself notes that prior to becoming a police officer, he did work in other jobs, like working for a law firm, which aided his work as an officer. Even working in a department store as a teenager in Lorain County, Branscum said, helped develop his interest in law enforcement and doing the right thing.

“There was a Lorain County Sheriff’s Deputy (now retired Det. Bruce L. Johnston) who would take care of incidents in the store and what he did seemed interesting, so I ended up helping him at times and that helped get me moving toward law enforcement,” Branscum said.

In addition, prior to joining the North Olmsted department, Branscum worked at a law firm, which Gallagher and Branscum himself believe helped him.

“Bud was our go-to guy and often was our contact with the prosecutor’s office and always seemed to be able to work with them on different cases for the department,” Gallagher said.

“Working at the law firm did help me see how attorneys approach a case and dealing with different issues,” Branscum said.

Sgt. Bob Wagner, the current North Olmsted detective bureau commander, said Branscum’s ability to communicate carries over to his work with other officers.

“Bud is one of those officers everybody respects for his knowledge in many different areas,” Wagner said. “If I wanted an opinion on something, I could and would ask him, and other people do the same thing. And he’s been one of the best polygraph operators in the entire area for years.”

Rocky River police Chief Kelly Stillman said other area law enforcement agencies also appreciate Branscum’s abilities.

“He’s just a great guy,” Stillman said. “We worked together on the (WestShore) SWAT team and he was always a top officer. Plus, here in Rocky River, he’s done polygraph work for us for years, and he’s worked many other cases with our department.”

Branscum himself will credit others for helping him.

“This department is a close-knit one, and it’s culture has been that we have a knack for picking the right officers who know how to fit within that culture, learn how to do different things and work in the community,” he said.

He said one officer who helped him and many others was J.J. Calvitti, who served in many different areas of the department.

“J.J. helped me learn how to become a police officer with his experience and willingness to work with me and other younger officers,” Branscum said. “That type of attitude has always been here in this department. I was fortunate in that I got the opportunity to become a detective relatively early.”

Branscum recalled that he ended up on a murder case only a few days after becoming a detective.

“I remember being with (then) Sgt. (Wayne) Wozniak and there was a witness, and Sgt. Wozniak told me to go question the witness and I was kind of surprised since I was a new detective,” Branscum said. “but, he let me know I was the investigator on the case.”

Branscum recalled another case as an example of caring citizens getting involved to aid police departments.

“There was a truck driver who was in town named Phillip Pratka who ended up being involved in quite a few sexual assault, kidnapping and other capital cases,” Branscum said. “He was trying to abduct another girl near a North Olmsted school and she was running away from him when the janitor at the school saw what was going on and went out and got her into the school away from him. We were able to convict him and he’s still serving time.”

As he leaves, Branscum said he’s confident the department’s tradition of grooming officers for other positions leaves the community in good hands.

“This department has always cared about its community and its people,” he said. “We’ve got good officers here, and we’ve got a number of young officers now who, if they had been there when I was their age, I might not not have been able to become a detective as early as I did.”

 

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