By Graham Sturgeon, co-editor

SHIAWASSEE COUNTY is beginning 2017 with new leadership in the Shiawassee County Sheriff Office, as Sheriff Brian BeGole and Undersheriff Robert Brancheau take over for outgoing Sheriff George Braidwood at the beginning of January. The two found a moment Tuesday, Dec. 27 to pose for a picture in front of the Shiawassee County Jail in Corunna. The renovation of the jail will be one of the highest priorities for the two men as they begin the New Year. (Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)

In his first official decision in the role of Shiawassee County Sheriff, Brian BeGole will appoint Deputy Sheriff Robert “Butch” Brancheau to be his Undersheriff. Brancheau earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Grand Valley State University, and is entering his 26th year in law enforcement. BeGole and Brancheau first worked together in the early 1990s while serving as part-time officers for the city of Durand, and the two men’s professional careers have since been intertwined. BeGole considers Brancheau “the face of the department” due to his ability to build relationships.

After leaving Durand, Brancheau began working for the Birch Run Police Department, where he helped build a department that was expanding due to the increasing popularity of the Birch Run Premium Outlets. BeGole joined Brancheau in Birch Run, and the two worked together until 1996, at which point BeGole took a position with the Shiawassee County Sheriff Office (SCSO). During his time in Birch Run, Brancheau often took on administrative responsibilities, and he also established D.A.R.E. and canine programs.

Brancheau worked in Birch Run until 1999, at which point he became the canine handler for the SCSO. In addition to his SCSO duties, has also served as union steward, and as the Deputy Chief for the village of New Lothrop. Transitioning from deputy sheriff to undersheriff means Brancheau may be spending more time inside than he is used to, but BeGole is confident that Brancheau’s experience, charisma, and ability to solve problems will ensure a smooth adjustment. The new undersheriff will handle the daily operations of the sheriff’s department, including managing the budget, labor, and personnel.

One of Brancheau’s specialties is canine handling. He was named a National Association of Police Canine Handlers Trainer in 2008 and a Master Trainer in 2010. While it may be unrealistic to expect to implement a full canine program in Shiawassee County anytime soon, Brancheau does plan on utilizing the skills of his three-year-old canine, Vader, to perform locker searches and parking lot sweeps.

BeGole selected Brancheau as his undersheriff from a short list of three people. The two obviously have a great rapport, having spent a number of years working together, but BeGole says Brancheau is right for the job for several reasons. He pointed to Brancheau’s “vibrant personality,” which he has used to build relationships within the department and throughout the community, especially with students and in the school systems. He also noted that Brancheau’s time “in the trenches” as union steward has led him to be well liked, respected, and trusted by SCSD employees. BeGole also calls him an “innovative thinker,” and says his “uncanny ability to solve problems” has always made him an asset. Lastly, BeGole says he appreciates that Brancheau is not a “yes man” and will challenge him when needed.

The two men are chomping at the bit to get started on reshaping the SCSD, and they have a number of tasks they want to accomplish. While additional resources would be eagerly accepted, BeGole and Brancheau realize that more will have to be done with what they have. The pair have come up with several ideas that they believe will expand the department’s revenues and services provided, though they acknowledge that “change won’t happen overnight.”

“Of course we want to build our road patrol back up, but we realize that the jail is our biggest asset, and it is in disrepair. We are going to improve the condition, security, and operations of the jail, and increase our capacity, which will increase the county’s revenue. We have to help rebuild ourselves,” BeGole said in a Dec. 27 interview.

The first step in the rebuilding effort, according to BeGole, will be “sitting down with each person in the office to get a feel for their jobs and how they think we can change and improve. We lost some great guys to layoffs, but this office is full of experience, and we want everyone to be a part of improving the sheriff’s department. Everyone needs to have a say.”

Brancheau added, “We are also going to look at like-sized police departments to get a look at how they run; what works and what doesn’t. We are not going to be bound by the ‘This is how we’ve always done it’ attitude. The times are changing and we need to change with the times.”

The duo is “enthusiastic about the new Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners” and say that “this is a great opportunity for improved communication” between the board and the SCSO. The sheriff’s department has been allotted two road patrol shifts for 2017, but BeGole says adding a third shift and expanding coverage beyond the current 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. format is essential to improvement.

BeGole and Brancheau are intent on working with the commissioners to add a third shift as soon as possible, but in the meantime they will implement their plan. That means putting minimum-security inmates to work improving the condition of the jail. With improved capacity and security, there will be more beds available to out-of-county prisoners, which would bring in additional revenues.

BeGole and Brancheau are going to re-establish relationships between the SCSO and the police departments across the county, and they are already laying the groundwork by opening lines of communication with city, village, and township police chiefs. BeGole would like to see the separate departments train together more often and share resources whenever possible, and he will look into deputizing city officers to allow them to cross jurisdictional boundaries more expediently in cases of life or death situations.

Animal control will also be a focus of the new sheriff’s office. BeGole says he will work with the county’s cities to make animal control services available to all Shiawassee County residents. He will encourage increased enforcement of animal-related ordinances to help fund the increased services, which goes along with his “help rebuild ourselves” mentality. BeGole and Brancheau intend to “leave no stone unturned” in their pursuit to “turn around the sheriff’s department,” and they have pledged to make sure every department is accounted for and supported.

Brancheau Tabbed as Undersheriff was last modified: January 2nd, 2017 by Karen Elford