We remember Detective Louie Miller, especially this time of the year. He sacrificed his life for us on March 11, 1987. In December, 1981, my first day on the job after graduating the Police Academy, I met a man who I would remember and look up to for the rest of my life. Louie Miller trained me, and countless others. He not only taught us how to be better cops, but he showed us how to be better people. He was a father figure for each of us, when we needed it most. One of the many gifts he left us was our ability to tell his stories, the stories of love, compassion, caring and service. I am honored to share a few of them.
Louie could have had practically any assignment he wanted, but his true passion was training new officers. He had a gift for helping rookies make the transition from the Police Academy to police officer. He considered being a training officer a special privilege. Louie would regularly remind his fellow training officers and supervisors of the enormous potential they had. Louie would often say to them, “The future leaders of our department may be in this group. Some of them will be bosses someday. Someone in this group may be a chief someday. And we have the ability to affect what kind of cop they become, and what kind of bosses they will be.”
He affectionately referred to the young officers he was training as “my kids.” Louie had been given a nickname, “The Commander.” Although he was not a supervisor, the name reflected his strong command presence and his way of always taking charge at a job. The name fit him well. Even in his late fifties, Louie continued to run into buildings with officers who were less than half his age. The Commander knew the glory of being the first to show up at the home of someone who needed help, someone who was experiencing some kind of crisis that only a cop could handle. When asked when he was going to retire, Louie would say, “I love my job; I love my kids.” Sometimes he would add, “The only way I’m going to leave this job is with an “Inspector’s Funeral.” (An honor given to a police officer who dies in the line of duty.)
The compassion Louie showed for others was a way of life for him. No one escaped his kindness. He carried containers of dog food in the back of his patrol car, for the occasional hungry stray dog he may happen upon. His caring also extended to homeless people who he would see on a frequent basis. He would sometimes give them change, coffee or tea, and something to eat, but always a few kind words, and the most valuable gift one can give, his attention.
His wife Veronica’s mother had bought a Persian Lam coat as World War II began that she passed on to Veronica. Years later she had the long coat altered and cut down to a shorter version, consistent with the style of the day. She wore it a few times, and put it away in the back of a closet. It stayed in her closet for years without her wearing it. One day Veronica noticed the coat missing. She asked Louie if he had seen it. He told her, in a matter-of-fact tone, “I got rid of that old coat. I found someone who really needed it.” Louie had given it to a homeless woman at the train station on Church Avenue. He got into a bit of trouble, but not for long. Veronica was as loving as he was.
Sector “George” was Louie’s steady sector. As he and his rookies started an hour after the regularly scheduled platoon, on each day a team would already be assigned to sectors “George/Henry/Ida.” When Louie got to his sector, he would message the dispatcher, “Car 2059 to Central” The dispatcher would respond, “Good afternoon Commander!” He’d continue, “Be advised, we will be designated sector “George.” Please advise the old “George/Henry/Ida” that they will now be known as “Henry/Ida.” The dispatcher would say, “10–4 Commander.” Then, cops from all over the division would get on the radio to great Louie, “How are you Commander?” “Hey Commander!” “Good morning Louie.” There were strict prohibitions against “unauthorized transmissions” over the department radio, such as those, but no one would ever question the honorable greetings given to Louie each day. Knowing he was working and the sound of his voice comforted and motivated everyone.
One day in my first month in training I was on a foot post on the south side of Church Avenue, between 18th Street and 19th Street. Standing alone, I planted myself against the building line, doing my best to look “hard,” intensely focused on appearing strong, and “in charge.” As I was standing against a building a marked car pulled up and inside the car were two cops in training with me and Louie. When I started walking toward the car, I noticed a man approaching from down the block, walking toward us. His clothes were disheveled and he had a swagger that gave me the impression that he probably spent a good deal of his time hanging out on street corners. So, as he quickly neared, I stepped back again, toward the building line, standing erect and trying to look like a street hardened cop who had seen it all.
As he was passing us, he spotted Louie. He smiled and turned and in a friendly voice he said, “How ya’ do’in, Detective Miller?” Louie smiled and answered, “How are you doing Sammy?” They both shook hands, and had a pleasant exchange. Sammy had some experience on the wrong end of the law, and Louie Miller knew that. However, he treated Sammy with dignity and respect. He spoke to him with the same kindness he would show me, or anyone else.
On March 11, 1987, I was assigned as the desk officer of the 61 Precinct. Desiree, a police officer who was being trained in Louie’s unit, came down the stairs and walked quickly toward the desk, looking at me from the moment she came out of the stairway. Desiree was very pleasant and was always smiling, but as she walked quickly toward me her face was very serious. Before she even got to me, from about twenty feet away, she said, “Louie was shot.” I stared at Desiree; she stared back at me, both of us with a look of helpless disbelief. For a moment, everything seemed to stop – my thoughts, my body, and time. Then, a few moments later, I heard that Louie might not make it. And within the hour, I learned that the Commander had died. That bad news traveled quickly. It spread throughout the entire NYPD, to every station house in every borough, to every patrol car, to every cop on a foot post. And the momentary paralysis Desiree and I shared was felt by every one of New York’s Finest. A cop was shot in the 70, and he didn’t make it.
As a Chief, I spoke of Louie throughout every rookie orientation, but during those two days I could only speak about him a few minutes at a time, because if I spoke about him longer, I would get emotional. At the end of the session, I would call his wife Veronica in Charlottesville and tell her that a couple of hundred officers have been given some of the wisdom of “The Commander.” At the end of every phone call, she would say to me, “Awe, you’ve made my day.” I would then tell Vera, who passed away in October 2014, that people will be remembering, and telling stories of the beloved Commander for many years to come. And 34 years later, last Thursday I got to stand with my partners in the 70 back then, Mike Collins and Jack Driscoll and address the cops of the 70 and share the gifts of my mentor, mentor to so many. I am forever grateful to Louie, for all the lives he has touched, and for the impact he has had and continues to have on mine.
God bless Louie and all of our heroes, and all of our departed loved ones. Stay safe, stay inspired and stay healthy, in body and spirit.
March 17, 2021