CPD's assistant chief takes new step in career serving hometown

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 16, 2013 

Last week Lem Miller was driving by his childhood home on Columbus' Hunt Avenue when he noticed the condition of the elementary school he once attended.

He was shocked.

Pleasantly shocked: What used to be Eastway Elementary, and now is Lonnie Jackson Academy, looked beautiful, better than when Miller attended it half a century ago. He stopped by just to see the principal and say how nice the school looked.

Now 60 years old, Columbus' new assistant police chief notices such changes, having spent his life here, most of it protecting the public as a patrol officer, detective, police supervisor and most recently the major in charge of professional standards, formerly "internal affairs," the division that investigates police misconduct.

Next week he moves into the assistant chief's position, helping Chief Ricky Boren manage a department much different than the one Miller joined in 1974.

Among the challenges the top administrators face is working within city budget constraints while trying to achieve full staffing.

Though Columbus voters in 2008 passed a sales tax to add 100 officers, bringing the total to 488, turnover has made that difficult to maintain. On Monday the force was 29 short.

Boren said he wants Miller to evaluate how well police serve the public, particularly in response to 911 calls.

The assistant chief's position has been vacant since Charles Rowe retired Nov. 1, 2012. The lingering vacancy spawned rumors of political maneuvering.

Boren said he wanted to be methodical in making the promotion, as all the majors in line for the post were well qualified. "It was extremely competitive," he said.

"I know he wanted to make a thoughtful decision," Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said of Boren. "He's got a lot of folks over there that are very well qualified, devoted members of the department."

She believes Boren made the right choice: "I think very highly of Lem Miller," she said, citing his administrative experience and the expertise he gained while heading the professional standards division. "I think he's a phenomenal choice for assistant chief," she said.

His full name is Lemuel Miller III, son of the Lem Miller who for 30 years served as clerk of Columbus Council. His father was a meticulous, irascible, hard-working, pipe-smoking civil servant who sometimes knew what actions council had taken even when the councilors themselves lost track.

That was back when workers could smoke in the Government Center, and the son recalls smelling the pipe smoke on the office tower's sixth floor as soon as the elevator doors opened.

His father was first a radiator mechanic who took correspondence courses before getting an auditor's job in the city finance department.

From there he advanced to council clerk.

The son said he learned his work ethic from his dad, who each year gave the city back two or three weeks' vacation he never took.

Growing up, Miller briefly attended Hardaway High School at a time when it had a seventh grade, then went to what was then Rothschild Junior High and graduated from Kendrick High School in 1971.

In his free time, he worked -- delivering newspapers on a bicycle, laboring at what was then the Kinnett Dairies milk plant and working in maintenance at what was then called The Medical Center.

At 18, he spent a year as a clerk in the hospital security office, working with Vietnam veterans who regaled him with stories of combat and Army life. At 19, he started as a police cadet in what was then called the "radio room," now the 911 center.

As a patrol officer from 1974 to '84, he witnessed some of the city's darkest days. He recalled being one of two officers who first responded to one of the "Stocking Stranglings" serial killings of 1977 and '78.

At the scene they found the killer had entered the home by taking a door off its hinges. They went in, calling to anyone who might be inside, and found a figure sitting up in a bed, a pillow covering the head. Carefully lifting the pillow, they saw the knotted stocking at the neck, and called detectives.

Miller had just transferred to detectives in 1984 when police arrested stranglings suspect Carlton Gary. Working with investigator Mike Sellers, Miller traveled extensively for the first time in his life when they retraced Gary's trail to Gary, Ind., Lansing, Mich., and Chicago.

In 1986, he was promoted to sergeant in the investigative bureau, but soon got burned out working nearly nonstop. "I would take the homicide investigations home with me," he said. So, in 1988, he transferred back to patrol, where in 1995 he was promoted to lieutenant.

He went back to the investigative bureau in 1999, and he gained the rank of captain there in 2002. He became the major over professional standards in 2007.

On Monday he talked about the difficulties in keeping people engaged in law enforcement now. Some don't see it as a career, just a job, and don't feel law enforcement officers get the respect they once did. One officer who recently left the department said, "I can't believe you have to put up with all you have to put up with."

Miller said recruits have to learn that police work is hard and sometimes frustrating, but also rewarding.

He will miss one aspect of his old job: It allowed him to manage security during events at the Columbus Civic Center, a task he thoroughly enjoyed, having gotten to know Columbus Cottonmouths hockey fans and other regulars there.

It's not an appropriate part-time job for an assistant police chief, he said, so he will have to give it up.

Miller and his wife have two sons and a daughter, ages 34, 21 and 19, and four grandchildren. His father did not live to see his son's latest promotion: He died seven years ago.

Like his father, Miller intends to be a lifelong Columbus resident. He never wanted to live anywhere else:

"I was born and raised here, never had any intentions of leaving. I'm a mama's boy. I'm not ashamed of that. But my whole entire family, for the most part, has stayed in Columbus. … I love Columbus."

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service