Sheriff Braudis reaches peace with an ‘agonizing’ retirement decision |

Sheriff Braudis reaches peace with an ‘agonizing’ retirement decision


ASPEN – Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said Monday he is hanging up his badge to write, travel and nurture his inner activist.

The timing is right, in large part, because his staff is so strong and he believes Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo would make an excellent replacement, he said.

“There’s a time to step aside and this is it,” Braudis said from the basement courthouse office where he has ruled for the last 24 years. “The decision was agonizing but once I made it, I felt very comfortable.”

Braudis is widely respected as a sheriff – he ran unopposed in four of six races and was only seriously challenged in his first stab at elected office in 1986. He will not seek a seventh term this November. The term officially expires in January.

Braudis said he pondered his decision for about a year, although without a deadline looming it was initially on the back of his mind. He started giving his decision serious thought starting in February. He flip-flopped numerous times.

“It was like a Ping-Pong match in my own head,” he said.

A serious respiratory illness which sidelined him for weeks this winter played no role in his decision. He said he feels fine. But Braudis is no spring chicken. He will turn 66 before this term expires. He said he has a lot of tasks and travels to complete, so he figures he better get after it.

“There are a lot of things I want to do that you can’t do in this office,” Braudis said. “I’m not going to go to the shuffleboard court with the retirees. I’m going to reinvent myself.”

He wants to write more. He teamed with his friend Michael Cleverly on a book reminiscing about Hunter S. Thompson and enjoyed the discipline the writing assignment forced. He envisions spending winters in a warm, oceanic location, possibly the Florida Keys. He also mentioned a desire to spend time in Barcelona, Spain, and Venice, Italy, with his partner, Dede Brinkman. He dreams of working on his conversational Romance languages.

Braudis said he will spend considerable time in Aspen as well, where he came in 1969, and where many of the people he considers his dearest friends still reside. He also has two daughters, their husbands and four grandkids in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Braudis was slightly guarded about one of his major directions for the future. He said he has plans to get involved in social justice issues with national political movements. He doesn’t see himself protesting in the streets any longer. He demonstrated against U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s. Nor is he interested in candidacy for national office. But he wants to get involved by writing, speaking and providing guidance to younger folks working on social justice issues.

When asked what legacy he wants to leave behind, Braudis said he performed “a lot more work than you think.” He and his staff honed a law enforcement philosophy that Braudis and some longtime deputies learned under Dick Kienast, the sheriff from the late 1970s until Braudis took the reins. Kienast wanted as law enforcement officers citizens who loved the community and wanted to help. As part of the philosophy, deputies are integrated into the community, not just insulated cops pursuing criminals.

“It’s not just busting crooks. We don’t have any of those,” Braudis said.

He became part of the Kienast administration, dubbed Dick Dove and Deputies of Love, in 1977. He started as a “baby deputy” and advanced to the director of operations during an 8 1/2-year stint. He applied to fill a county commissioner vacancy after Michael Kinsley resigned and, unexpected for him, was selected. He served 1 1/2 years as a commissioner but found land use really wasn’t his thing. He liked the “immediate gratification” of public safety. Braudis ran for sheriff in 1986 and topped Don Davis, a tough, no-nonsense lawman who served with Kienast.

Braudis said he was proud to build off Kienast’s legacy and maintain the trust and support of the community.

“I happen to know I appeal to both sides of the [political] spectrum. I don’t understand it,” he said, noting his law enforcement philosophy appeals to everyone from wealthy conservatives to ski bums working three jobs.

He has caught sporadic flack over the years for his decision not to conduct undercover drug investigations and the limited assistance to federal drug officers. But Braudis’ ability to come across as just another guy, rather than a heavy-duty cop, endears him to lots of people.

“I want to be remembered as a citizen who got into public safety,” he said.

He sought the same thing from his deputies. He said his department has stuck to its standards of what it wants in a deputy, even when pickings were slim while the private sector economy was booming. He recalled one time the staff worked through a shortage of seven deputies because they couldn’t find the right candidates.

“I have, right now, the best team I’ve ever had,” he said.

Braudis said he will assist DiSalvo in the election. DiSalvo has constantly sought and been given more responsibility over the last decade. Braudis appointed him undersheriff after the last election.

Braudis said he would be comfortably turning the department over to his second in command. “Without the presence of Joe, my decision would have been a lot tougher,” Braudis said.

He dismissed the thought that his successor, whoever it is, faces a Herculean task of replacing a legend. He noted he successfully took over for a legend. In that context, Braudis hopes Aspenites – many of whom long for the days of old – don’t bemoan his departure as another example of Aspen changing.

“I hope not, because everything I’ve created here is going to live on after I’m gone,” Braudis said.

Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said he’s never gotten use to the death and trauma he experienced during almost 33 years as a lawman.

“All death filters its way to my desk,” he said, citing suicides, car accidents and an occasional homicide.

Braudis said when he was first elected sheriff in 1986, he hoped to retire without a suicide in the jail, which he oversees, and without an officer-involved shooting.

Both occurred. A jail inmate hanged himself before sentencing. Another time, deputies got in a shoot-out with a mentally ill county resident which resulted in the man’s death. Braudis said it was fortunate that law officers didn’t die in that incident.

Seeing friends die from everything from avalanches to self-inflicted gunshot wounds has also been tough. “Hunter’s suicide rocked me,” he said of his good friend Hunter S. Thompson.

When Braudis first entered law enforcement in the 1970s, the lawmen’s code was to “suck it up” and move on to the next traumatic incident. That approach has changed. Officers are now encouraged to talk to mental health experts about the trauma they deal with. Braudis said he wholeheartedly supports the “touchy-feely” approach and has seen its benefits.

Braudis said training and education has also improved greatly over the decades he has been involved in law enforcement. That preparation shows in his department’s performance in major incidences, and day-to-day, he said.

“We know how to handle anything that comes our way,” Braudis said.

– Scott Condon

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