Captain Miller Stoddard of the Albemarle County Police Department is the new Commander of the Blue Ridge District, which includes Crozet, and he’s experienced many types of policing on the road to get here. Beginning his career in 1992 with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, he also worked in the Albemarle County Sheriff’s Office for six years before transferring to the ACPD in 2001. There he has served as a patrol officer, sergeant in charge of the traffic unit and canine officers, and captain of the Operational Support division, which covered problem-oriented policing, animal control, and traffic units.
Now he’s back in the patrol division as Captain of the Blue Ridge District, an area that encompasses 515 square miles of western and southern Albemarle County stretching from White Hall down to Scottsville and east to Monticello. (The Jefferson District covers the remaining 211 square miles to the north and east.) When the opportunity to switch positions arose, Stoddard said he “was all about it. It’s a good thing to move people around. You have to be somewhere long enough to have some expertise in it but, at the same time, you can’t get stagnant.”
The district officers currently work in squads so they’re always with the same officers and supervisors. “We have some overlap days where we can work on getting them more training or having them take part in special assignments.” In each district there are three squads on (daylight, evening and midnight shifts) while three others are off.
When Stoddard is alerted to a problem by a citizen, he works with various county agencies and groups within the police department to address the issue. “If it’s a long-term traffic problem, we may need to work with community development or VDOT to connect them, and I would be the liaison. If it was a crime issue, I would address it, but we could also receive support from [others] if we needed their resources such as a traffic or patrol officer or a detective.”
Crozet is the most densely populated area in the Blue Ridge district other than the urban ring just west of Charlottesville, but Crozet doesn’t require more resources due to crime, said Stoddard. “We have general calls for service that are not really related to crime, such as animal control problems, leash law compliance, that sort of thing,” he said. “There are certainly areas that we patrol on a regular basis, and because of the more-dense population you get issues with more traffic crashes, speeding, and crosswalk concerns, and we work closely with VODT on a lot of those.
“As far as criminal activity in Crozet, those types of statistics are going to be lower because of the type of business and commercial base here,” he said. “You’re not going to have near the larcenies as compared to parts of the Jefferson district, where we have a lot of shoplifting from Target and Walmart, for example. On the other hand, because there is a lot of wealth out here, there are common cycles such as larcenies from vehicles at night in neighborhoods where people can walk from house to house, so that’s why we encourage people to take valuables out of vehicles and lock them at night.”
Though his job as Operational Support Commander kept him at his desk quite a bit, organizing trainings and shifts for his squads and planning for security at local events such as races and protests, Stoddard hopes to get out more as District Commander. “Reaching a large number of citizens at one time in a public meeting is still up in the air due to Covid,” he said. “You don’t want to substitute virtual for personal interaction if you can help it, but at the same time you can’t not have a meeting at all. As soon as things open up a little bit, we’d be happy to have a community meeting out in Crozet to give a presentation or answer questions. We now go into schools less often [because School Resource Officers in county schools have been discontinued], though I was at the WAHS football game last weekend and got to speak to a lot of folks.”
As with many police departments across the country, the ACPD has staffing issues that Stoddard said reflect “an overall societal view [that results in] less people filling out the application.”
“A lot of people don’t understand what it takes to staff a police department,” he said. “If you want to put 10 people on the street for one shift, you’ve really got to have 14 or 15 people to do that, and that’s just for half the time, and then you need three shifts per day, and that doesn’t even include supervisors, commanders, detectives, so it takes a lot of people.”
Stoddard observes the push in some parts of the U.S. to reduce the size of police forces, and wonders whether citizens realize the extent of services police provide. “When an autistic child slips out the back door, or someone’s elderly father who has Alzheimer’s walks into the woods, we’re who comes in and looks for them immediately,” he said. “Officers don’t enjoy writing speeding tickets, but it does curb bad behavior. Imagine being someone who is a runner and was hit by a car, which can be a life-altering experience—if we’re not here, who is going to investigate that? We have very hard-working, dedicated people who are committed to public service.”
He likes the freedom of the work, the constant meeting of new people, and the fact that it’s not strictly a desk job, but the thing that has always sustained him is being on hand when someone needs help. “The part of it that I most value is helping somebody out when, in a lot of cases, they are in the absolute worst day of their life,” he said. “Everybody thinks their child’s going to grow up and get married and have kids, and all of a sudden there’s a car crash and that’s not going to happen.” Stoddard and his fellow officers are trained to help people bear up under the worst of circumstances.
As he approaches thirty years in police work, Stoddard says his focal points have shifted. “In the first part of your career, you’re really interested in figuring out how everything happens, but when you get older, you become more patient about it; it’s not a routine anymore. I had a captain one time tell me that physically police work is a young person’s job, and mentally it’s an old person’s job, and it all comes together in the middle of your career. My main interest now is for the officers to have the right training, the right attitude, and the right resources for them to go out and directly help the community.”
He’s grateful for the changes he’s seen in training and police leadership in recent years—from things like a class on how to talk with an autistic child to training on calming people who are upset at a crime or accident scene. He said it’s important to make sure the officers who are out every day enjoy their jobs as much as possible, especially in their interactions with citizens. “Sometimes folks are angry and they snap, but it’s not personal most of the time, it’s just the situation. Sometimes it’s about the uniform, but generally if you can talk to somebody long enough, it’s not about that anymore either. It’s just people talking to people.”