Cop takes good with bad policing small town

 By Jessica Strait

As a small-town cop, Lexington police Capt. A.M. “Bucky” Miller does it all.

He talks to little kids about wearing a helmet when they ride their bikes. He warns college students about the dangers of drinking too much. And he stops in to check up on tweens during their middle school social gatherings.

“I’ve never missed a middle school dance,” Miller says.

He laughed, but he wasn’t joking.

Miller, 50, has been on the Lexington police force since 1985. Born and raised in west-central Virginia’s Rockbridge County, he has deep ties to the area. He went to high school here. He left to attend Virginia State University in Petersburg but came back after he graduated in 1984.

“My family was very disciplined, and my dad laid down the rules,” he says.  “But he was always fair. So I believe if I go somewhere and tell people exactly what I expect of them, and exactly what will happen to them, then whatever I have to do after that is on you, not on me.”

Miller talks tough, but he says he has a soft spot in his heart for kids. His office is decorated with drawings from kids. Three teddy bears are buckled up snugly in his back seat of his patrol car. And a flag hangs from the car’s passenger seat visor. It was a gift from the daughter of former Police Chief Steve Crowder.

“I’m funny about stuff kids give me,” Miller says. “Adults, not so much.”

Treat everyone the same

Miller wanted to become a lawyer. He changed his mind after a police officer taking classes at Virginia State invited Miller to go on a ride-along.

“I realized that police work is one of the few fields where you can start something and you can take it all the way to the end,” Miller said. “If I arrest someone on the street, I go court with him. I see what’s going to happen to him in court. I know the whole story. I investigate it. I find everything out.”

At first Miller thought he wanted to work in a bigger city, such as Richmond. But Lexington hired him first. He started off as a patrol officer and worked his way up the ranks—to sergeant, investigator and then lieutenant. Last November Miller was promoted to captain.

Miller, who is African-American, says his background has shaped the way he does police work. He says he grew up hearing about “how bad” the system was, and he says he wouldn’t ever want to be accused of being unfair.

“I don’t think you should have a justice system that weighs people unfairly,” Miller says. “We treat everybody exactly the same.”

Police Chief Al S. Thomas says Miller is willing to do more than what’s required for the job. “He routinely volunteers to work on special projects and activities outside the scope of his police duties,” Thomas said.

Last month several children vied for Miller’s attention, yelling “Bucky” during the Waddell Elementary School bike rodeo. They laughed at his booming voice as he directed them through an obstacle course of bright orange traffic cones.

Miller made sure one little girl visited all of the bike safety stations before she left for her music lesson that afternoon.

“It’s the children who respond to him so well,” said Lexington Mayor Mimi Elrod.

Handling the ‘bad’ calls

Miller says he knows “everyone and their mothers.” But he also says it isn’t always easy working in a small town.

“There is nowhere to go to decompress,” he said. “You go to the grocery store and you’re trying to buy groceries and someone wants to come up to you and talk to you about their brother getting arrested, or what their girlfriend’s doing to them, or their car got repossessed, or they want to put somebody out of their house.”

Miller says that the biggest misconception about the Lexington police department is that it is “overzealous.”

Capt. Bucky Miller on patrol. (Photo by Jessica Strait)

He says 90 percent of people who attend fraternity and house parties are under 21 and consuming alcohol—but the police leave without arresting anyone.

“What I wish people would understand is that we’re not out here doing any more or any less,” Miller said. “We’re doing what we need to do to keep you safe.”

The job comes with emotional baggage, he says. When “something bad” happens to somebody, Miller says, it’s like “something bad” has happened to “a part of you.” He said it’s tough to go to a scene and realize the person who has died is someone he has known for a long time.

“It’s hard to be distant from it, but you have to,” he said. “At least, that’s what they tell you.”

Miller says the “bad calls” involve guns, knives or any call about a mental illness case when there’s a weapon in the house.

“I’m not sure you have time to think about getting scared,” Miller said. “Because you’re thinking about what you’re going to do when you get there. Everyone else is excited and we have to be calm.”

Miller drives his unmarked police car home at night in case he’s called while off-duty and needs to get somewhere fast. His typical day starts around 7 a.m. and may not end until 8 or 9 p.m.

His police car doesn’t have a cage because he’s a captain. Since his promotion, Miller said, he doesn’t make as many arrests or court appearances, and he misses it.

“I always like testifying in court,” Miller said. “If you got all your stuff together, it’s like reading a story, no more, no less. My job is to get you to court. The judge’s job is to decide whether to convict you or not.”

CNN, not CSI

Miller is passionate about his real-life police work, but don’t get him started on “cop shows.”

“I don’t like CSI because it makes everybody think that the police are going to come there and then in 30 minutes or less we’re going to solve your crime,” he said.

He would much rather watch CNN, his favorite news channel. Miller also enjoys hunting, horseback riding, movies and watching college sports. He likes rap music, but “just the beat, not the lyrics.”

Miller also walks on the Chessie Trail. He jokes that he’s convinced himself that the occasional Wendy’s Frosty doesn’t count.

Even so he’s lost 75 pounds over the past seven months. “It started as a bet with a friend and I just got carried away,” he said.

“He works out at the YMCA and I would see him there, on Sundays especially,” Elrod said. “If I didn’t go one day, the next time he saw me he’d say, ‘Where were you on Sunday?’ He teases people, but in a very gentle sort of way.”

Backing his car into a parking spot at VMI on a recent day, Miller deadpanned, “Do you know why we always back in? So we don’t hit anyone on the way out.”

As for a legacy, Miller says he hopes he shows local teenagers that it’s not so bad to come back home.

“If I don’t do anything else,” he said, “that’s what I want to do.”