AUGUSTA — Keith Brann has helped put away untold murderers, robbers and burglars while building one of the most efficient criminal investigative units in the state. He has an uncommon ability to understand people, which has allowed him to put the detectives under him in the best position to succeed, according to his boss.

As he reflects back on his 27 years with the Augusta Police Department, however, what Brann recalls are the people who have worked alongside him. Brann, who retired from the department Friday, can no longer call them co-workers, but they’ve always been so much more than that anyway.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said “This has been a big part of my life for a long time. It’s family.”

Brann, 57, has commanded the four full-time detectives for the Augusta police’s Criminal Investigation Division for the past 14 years. Chief Robert Gregoire, who joined the department six months after Brann, said the lieutenant’s patience and ability to communicate helped revolutionize the division.

“A lot of that has to do with mentoring from the division commander,” Gregoire said. “You channel the officers’ abilities and enthusiasm in the right direction and they have the opportunity to excel. That’s what he’s been able to do.”

Gregoire claims that the unit does “great criminal work” is supported by state crime data. A sampling from 2008 to 2012, the most recent years for which comprehensive data is available, indicates Augusta police had a crime clearance rate that exceeded county and state averages, often significantly, in all but one year. That was while typically investigating more than a third of all of Kennebec County’s index crimes, which are classified as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft.

Still, Gregoire said, Brann’s effect is measured by more than statistics.

“Clearance rates fluctuate depending on how busy we are,” he said. “The busier we get, our clearance rates go down.”

What is most noteworthy are the improvements the division has made in technology and techniques. Gregoire said the division has worked cases more aggressively under Brann’s command, Gregoire said.

“The professionalism under Lt. Brann has definitely improved,” Gregoire said.

PEOPLE PERSON

Brann accepts such praise the same way a roof accepts water, shedding it quickly and passing it along to those who work under him. The detectives’ ability to succeed, however, can be traced to Brann’s ability to understand people. That understanding, ultimately, is borne of a genuine desire to see them succeed and grow.

“I tried to build on what people had strengths in and give them the training to allow them to bloom,” he said. “It’s worked out really well for us.”

“He knows people,” Gregoire added. “He has a good read on human nature. And a lot of that has to do with his communication skills.”

There has been an exponential growth in technology since Brann took over the division, and he has stayed busy keeping up. The department now has a crime laboratory, a computer laboratory, an electronic fingerprint lifter and a drying closet for things such as processing bloody clothes. The department even has converted an old ambulance into a crime scene response vehicle that doubles as an equipment vehicle for the Special Response Team. Brann said he has been able to make those upgrades because he has always had the support of the chiefs above him to not only make the upgrades but provide detectives with the proper training to make the most use of it.

“When I started as a detective, all we had was a camera and print kit,” Brann said. “The amount of things we have to work with now are unbelievable compared to what we had before. It’s something I had a part in. I’m pretty proud of it.”

Brann’s family is dotted with members who served in law enforcement, including his father, who was a Kennebec County sheriff’s deputy for 28 years. Still, Brann didn’t set out to be a cop. He started his adulthood working in the private sector. He joined the reserve police forces in Hallowell and Gardiner, where he worked with fellow reservist Gregoire, and was the town constable in Windsor. Brann began a full-time job with the Augusta police on Dec. 14, 1987.

“My family has always been involved in law enforcement,” Brann said.

His nephew, Jesse Brann, is an Augusta patrol officer; and another nephew, Matthew Brann, is a deputy sheriff in Franklin County.

“I got to put their badges on at the academy,” Keith Brann said. “That was a big, big moment for me.”

Those are the types of moments Brann said he will remember most, but he also takes with him a head full of cases that his department has worked over the years.

TOUGH CASES

One of those, Paul Rivera, pleaded guilty in 2009 to robbing five banks. Police nabbed him after Augusta detectives noticed an unusual gait while viewing surveillance video.

Evert Fowle, who was Kennebec County District Attorney at the time, commended Augusta police for tracking Rivera to a motel where they found him with some of the cash he had gotten during a robbery at an Augusta bank.

“They were dogged and persistent with Mr. Rivera,” Fowle said at the time. “Through their patience, Mr. Rivera wound up confessing to the other bank robberies.”

Brann remembers Rivera’s cocaine addiction that motivated him to commit the robberies, during which he used a toy gun.

“He was just down on his luck,” Brann said. “He had no intention of hurting anybody.”

Brann’s division has solved dozens of pharmacy robberies, including nine in 2012 alone. Only one of those robberies remains unsolved.

The robberies are an indication of the changing nature of crime, Brann said. The first pharmacy robbery in Augusta occurred in the late 1990s, and Brann said he recalled initially wondering why anyone would rob a pharmacy. Then, with soaring rates of opiate addictions, the robberies became almost commonplace.

The robberies have decreased, presumably because heroin now is available so cheaply, but Brann said police could again someday be faced with a blitz of robberies driven by drug abuse. He said opiate use, which is a factor in a large percent of illegal activity, has altered the nature of crime, including the introduction of out-of-state gangs trafficking drugs in to Maine.

Brann’s department also has helped the state police investigate six murders in Augusta since 2000, only one of which remains unsolved. Those responsible for the 2008 killing of 52-year-old Michael Roderick inside his east side home remain at large. There were two murders in Augusta that year — the killings of 72-year-old Audrey Lou Benn and 60-year-old Naomi Buzzell — in what would prove to be one of the state’s the most deadly of the decade for homicides. Police cleared the Benn and Buzzell investigations, but Brann is troubled that police have been unable to bring charges in connection with Roderick’s murder.

“That one bothers me,” he said.

The rise of DNA collection and testing has been vital in solving those cases and most others, Brann said. Detectives are now more eager find DNA evidence than even fingerprints. Cases that would have gone unsolved years ago are being cleared, Brann said.

“The results are fantastic,” he said. “DNA is the biggest advancement in my time, and I’m sure it will be for years to come.”

NEW CHALLENGES

Brann spent last week cleaning out his office. He was saving some of the most prized material for his nephews.

Brann has been hired as the executive vice president of security for Bank of Maine. He credits landing the job, like the success of his department, to friends and colleagues.

“I have a lot of friends that said nice things about me,” he said. “I’m pretty happy about it.”

For the first time in nearly 30 years, Brann will work in a new environment with all new people. He admits he’s a little nervous.

“I’m ready to learn,” he said. “There’s a lot to it. I just want to do a great job.”

Gregoire said the foundation Brann has laid will allow the department’s investigation devision to continue to thrive under new a new commander, who has not yet been selected. Gregoire, too, is now working without his friend Brann for the first time in 30 years.

“He’s always been a strong cornerstone in the department,” Gregoire said. “He binds his unit together. People seek him out for professional advice as well as personal advice. He’s that rock. He’s a family man, but he’s always thought of the police department as family.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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