Baldwin Police Sgt. Miller honored for exemplary service
Thoughts of putting that uniform on again and returning to his desk to set up appointments for car-seat installations to help parents has kept Baldwin Borough police Sgt. Ralph Miller going, even through the toughest moments.
“That and just getting back on patrol,” he said. “That's the motivating factor.”
Miller, 55, who was injured in an accidental shooting in February and remains on leave, stays positive about plans to return to work, even if it takes a year or more.
“I'm getting by. I still have some bad days. But I have many, many more good days,” Miller said.
The sergeant, who has worked with the Baldwin Borough police since 1998, was honored last week at the borough's council meeting by police Chief Michael Scott for a career of exemplary service. He received the department's Meritorious Service Award.
Representatives from the Pennsylvania DUI Association and Team Educators for Child Safety also presented Miller with accolades for his work in front of nearly a dozen of his family members, friends and colleagues.
“Ralph is the guy that you want to go to,” said Kathy Strotmeyer of the American Academy of Pediatrics and coordinator of Team Educators for Child Safety, as she fought back tears. “He's the guy that you call for car-seat checks. He's the guy that you send a parent to who gets off at 11 o'clock at night because Ralph will be there. He's just that guy.”
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Miller said he always has had an interest in serving others. It came from his mother, with whom he volunteered at a North Hills nursing home as a child, “sometimes willing,” he joked.
When he struggled to make ends meet as a baker, Miller said, he put himself through truck-driving school and worked as a driver for 18 and a half years.
In 1993, Miller attended the police academy at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and in 1995, he became a part-time officer in Cheswick.
While working in Cheswick, he still worked part time as a truck driver and as a security guard at the Northway Mall in the North Hills. He barely slept, he said, but that was OK.
In 1998, Miller was hired as an officer in Baldwin Borough. His family moved to the borough one year later.
He was one of three officers assigned to the traffic department. With his background in truck driving and knowledge of the streets and laws pertaining to the roads, this was a good fit, he said.
In 2005, Miller became the department's traffic supervisor. Because Baldwin is the host department for the South Hills DUI Task Force, that meant he also became task-force coordinator, writing grant applications and organizing DUI checkpoints and roving patrols for 12 municipalities, he said.
In the last seven years, the Baldwin police department has received the Platinum Award from the AAA each year for traffic safety, something that Scott credited to Miller.
Miller visits local festivals, such as St. Albert the Great Parish's yearly event, to talk with youths about the dangers of drinking. He has hosted numerous “Standardized Field Sobriety Test” classes for officers across the state at the Baldwin municipal building. The class teaches officers how to detect if a person is drunk by looking at their eyes and how they walk and respond to commands.
Miller, who is passionate about DUI enforcement, became a trainer for that program in October.
“You see so much with people harming themselves, harming others,” Miller said. “You just see the devastation that is causes.”
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One of the bright spots for Miller has been installing car seats for young parents, he said.
In 2002, Miller became a certified vehicle car seat installation technician. In the last four years alone, he has installed more than 600 car seats for Baldwin parents and grandparents.
This brings a lot of joy to the Baldwin sergeant, he said, as he trains young families on how to keep their newest member safe in the car. This allows him to see a different side of law enforcement.
“A lot of times, you meet the bad, the nasty people. You're dealing with people at their worst,” Miller said. “I see the worst of people and the best of people. ... There's no better feeling than when they leave there and you know that child will be safe in that car.”
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On Feb. 10, while responding to a domestic-violence call, Miller was shot twice in the back by a fellow officer, in what police have ruled an accident. Baldwin police have not identified the other officer involved in the shooting.
“At the time of his injury, Ralph was ensuring that an individual armed with a loaded shotgun did not harm himself or his wife and children,” Scott said.
Miller suffered “extensive nerve damage” from the shooting and remained in UPMC Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh for 41 days, while undergoing 18 procedures, he said.
“My injuries were very, very severe,” Miller said.
Now at home, he continues to have paralysis in his left leg, as well as muscle damage. He goes to therapy several times a week.
“There's no magic drug that will cure me,” said Miller, noting how doctors said it likely will be between a year and 18 months before he notices improvements. “It's hard. I miss a lot of things. I've got my dog here, and we can't take walks together now.”
Support from the community was widespread, Miller said.
First-graders from McAnnulty Elementary made him cards. People for whom he installed car seats donated blood at a community blood drive held in his honor. Even a “young lady” he had arrested sent him a get-well card.
Yet, through it all, Miller continued to think of the residents of Baldwin. Even from his hospital bed, he continued to make sure his obligations were met.
Two days after his shooting, Cathy Tress, the western Pennsylvania law-enforcement liaison for the Pennsylvania DUI Association, said she noticed Miller's name pop up on her caller ID. “I thought immediately that it would be the chief or his wife. But I have to tell you how shocked I was when I answered the phone and it was Ralph himself, basically calling to make sure that I had heard what had happened and that he'd be out of commission for a little while but that he wanted to make sure that I knew that something would still be taking place for the St. Patrick's Day enforcement,” Tress said as she recognized Miller at Baldwin's council meeting last week.
“You have my complete respect and adoration, not only as a police officer and South Hills DUI Task Force coordinator, but also as a person and my friend,” she told Miller.
Miller's family, too, has remained strong through it all, he said.
“Especially my wife — there's no amount of money that could buy the care that she's giving me,” Miller said of his wife, Roberta.
Miller, who said he was honored by the recognitions he received, also remained humble.
“Don't forget the other officers,” he said. “This could happen to anyone at anytime.”
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.