After working for the Payson Police Department for nearly three decades, it is no surprise that when Sgt. Todd Bramlet could finally retire in March, he could not tear himself from the organization that had strongly shaped his life and personality. So, instead of riding off into retirement, Bramlet has chosen to come back and work full time as evidence manager for the department.
Today, you can find Bramlet, 51, spending his days, not on the streets fighting crime, but tucked away in the back of the police station surrounded by boxes filled with guns, drugs, bodily fluids and body parts.
It is quite the change of pace for a man who started his career fighting crime in a town that was more wild, wild west than today.
Bramlet started his career with the PPD in 1980 when he decided he wanted to be a cop. He says he never thought he would actually become a police officer, in part, because he had never held a gun, much less shot one, and he never saw himself as a confident man.
“I had always been interested in it, but I never thought I would get into it,” he said. “I have never been one with a lot of confidence.”
With encouragement from his then wife, who bought him a gun to join the department, Bramlet signed up as a reserve officer. Two hours after applying, the PPD sent him to the police academy for training. The PPD had just been formed a year earlier. Before that, town marshals had patrolled the streets.
“It was a cowboy town back then,” he said. “We had two bars and it was a lot of fun.”
If a fight broke out in a bar, officers would split the brawl up and send everyone on their way. This is in contrast to today when, most likely, arrests would be made.
With a gun and a badge, Bramlet started patrolling with other officers. After only a year, he was made a full-time officer and, in 1989, he became patrol sergeant.
“I handled every kind of case, but back then the police department was not liked very much,” he said.
Bramlet said he remembers one event in the early 1980s that exemplified the Wild West feel the town had.
It was 1982 and the two saloons in town were the Oxbow and Winchester. A fight broke out in one of the bars and it carried out into the street. A man started shooting into the crowd and a bullet struck Winchester owner John Greenleaf, killing him.
Police grabbed the shooter and took him back to the station, which was nothing more than a small building with a dispatcher and holding cells.
Bramlet put the shooter into a cell, but got word that some town folks were coming to the station to bust him out and hang him.
Bramlet put the man into his patrol vehicle and made him lie down on the floorboards so he could drive him to the Globe jail without being seen.
Besides arresting gunslingers, Bramlet said officers were always chasing after loose cattle and horses on the streets, or picking up bitten off ears at the saloons after a bad bar fight.
After the 80s, the agency grew to what it is today, but the group of officers remains tight knit, he said.
Bramlet credits himself with recruiting current Chief Don Engler from the Gila County sewage plant where both men worked together.
“I snatched him up and convinced him to go with us and not DPS,” he joked.
Unlike Engler, though, Bramlet said he never dreamed of becoming chief.
“I liked being on the streets, and I always preferred patrol over administrative duties,” he said.
Working as evidence manager today doesn’t have the same level of excitement as a patrol sergeant, but Bramlet said it is an important job that needs to be done.
“Every piece of evidence has to be protected and organized,” he said. “People don’t think about the evidence collection side of law enforcement, but it is quite involved.”
Besides the department’s need for an evidence manager, Bramlet said he needed something to do after retirement that was away from patrol work.
“I need to work and they need someone knowledgeable to handle evidence,” he said. “And I was fried too emotionally from patrol because I got involved in every case and helped a lot of people. People respected me because I cared about them.”
During his 29-year career, Bramlet said he thankfully never had to shoot anyone, and was never shot.
With his son now considering joining the police academy, Bramlet said he is excited.