MARTINEZ, Calif. – A 14-year veteran of Martinez Police Department (MPD) has been named Officer of the Year by Police Chief Manjit Sappal.
Officer Dirk Miller received his chief’s praise for his communication skills, among other abilities.
“Officer Miller has been an asset to the police department, a consistent performer and a great problem solver who deserves to be recognized as our 2015 Officer of the Year,” Sappal said in making the announcement.
Sappal told Miller about the honor by simply calling him into his office. However, Miller was feted recently in a celebration that recognized his empathy in policing and his help in addressing the downtown area’s homeless situation by getting help to those who would accept it and by using enforcement methods with those who continued to break the law.
Miller, 45, joined law enforcement long before he became part of the Martinez Police Department.
For 10 years, he was a dispatcher in the Benicia Police Department, working in the city where he grew up. For seven years, he also was a reserve officer, after which he worked in the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office where he was assigned to its jail staff.
He said his assignments in Martinez’s department have been in many areas. He’s also worked in the dispatch center here, “when they need me.”
However, he’s also a hostage negotiator and is the department’s reserve coordinator.
He’s been in charge of the department’s reserve police officer program for two years.
Miller also operates the mobile command center, which he described as “a mobile home for hostage negotiations,” and is part of the department’s dirt bike team.
The latter assignment may sound like fun, but it’s not the recreational sport or competition. It’s a motorcycle assignment that takes patrol officers into off-road areas.
Miller said the department’s hostage negotiations team is part of the regional Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team that has members from San Ramon and Walnut Creek as well as Martinez. The departments work and train together so they can handle emergency situations efficiently.
“When we do our training or a live call-out, it’s not just a person on the phone,” he said about hostage negotiations. “It’s the whole team.” A coach will develop questions or help guide negotiations based on what he hears.
The “primary” is the member of the team who is in contact with the hostage taker or his spokesperson. “Other people gather intelligence. It’s a whole team effort,” he said.
That communication skill can be applied to other situations, such as in dealing with those who are threatening to commit suicide.
“I’ve never been the primary on the phone, but a couple of times on patrol, in a couple of situations, I’ve talked to people and have talked them down,” he said.
“I can think of two incidents,” he said, describing one at the Shell Refinery, where a woman had climbed onto a storage tank. “I talked to her for 45 minutes before she came down,” he said. The woman had made a series of attempts on her life, he said.
“A month before, she jumped off the Bay Bridge.”
During another encounter, Miller spoke with a man on Center Avenue who was holding a gun as he paced in his living room. “He threatened to blow his head off in front of his wife and teenaged daughter,” Miller said. “We got him help.”
Miller described the Martinez Police reserve program. It’s made up of volunteer police officers who undergo the same training as paid officers.
He said two types of people join the reserves. Some have other jobs, and they use this as a way to give to the community. Others want to become hired police officers, but for some reason haven’t been accepted at an agency. “They need to improve themselves, so they start out as reserves,” he said. Many reserves eventually are hired after they gain the necessary experience, he said.
Candidates need to be at least 21, and able to attend a police academy. “We have four in the reserves now,” Miller said. One who has been in the program for 11 years is leaving, however, and another is applying to agencies to get hired.
“I’m looking for reserves,” he said.