It’s nearing 5 p.m. on April 7 as Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Miller walks down Third Street in San Juan Bautista, introducing himself to the merchants on his second day on the job. Many of the shops have closed for the day, and Miller reflexively checks their doors to ensure they are securely locked.
At the open stores and restaurants, Miller is met with warm greetings as he passes out his business cards and asks if there had been any problems that day. It has been a busy day for Miller, with visits to Anzar High and San Juan Elementary schools, and he informs the merchants that he will be patrolling the town until midnight.
“Before I was assigned out here,” Miller said, “it was just patrol cars coming out when they could. We were supposed to be out here for a certain number of hours, and we always met that goal. But now that there will be someone here all the time, we can better understand the town’s special challenges.”
Miller demonstrated his value on his first night when a late-evening call about a suspicious straggler walking on the shoulder of Highway 156 near The Alameda who turned out to be a man with an outstanding arrest warrant. He has also been addressing other problems residents have complained about, such as people speeding or ignoring downtown stop signs.
“There are a few hot spots I am watching,” he said. “Like First and Monterey, where people like to run those stop signs all the time. But a quicker response time is really our biggest goal here. If we are handling a call in Tres Pinos and get a call in San Juan, the fastest we could get here is 15 or 20 minutes. Having someone here already will be very beneficial.”
As San Juan Bautista’s newly dedicated deputy is making himself known, locals are already saying they appreciate him being there.
“I am very grateful, and it is about time,” said Patricia Bain, owner of Mrs. B’s Z-Place. “I can’t even remember when we had someone stationed here. We needed a constant presence, and it makes me feel good and safe.”
In a town where shops often have just a single employee, difficult or intimidating customers can present a problem.
“Most of the businesses in this town are woman-owned businesses,” said Debbie Bird, owner of Sweet Pea Antiques. “So having a deputy in town is great for us. If we ever feel threatened, we can call him, and he will be there to help us.”
Indeed, one of the merchants on Miller’s rounds that afternoon confided that she had closed up early that day because a male customer acting strangely made her feel uncomfortable.
Miller grew up in Lemoore, south of Fresno, and studied law enforcement at West Hills College Lemoore, though that was not his initial interest.
“I was going to college as a runner, thinking I would just wait and find something that interested me,” he said. “A cop pulled me over one day and asked me what I was doing with my life. I said, ‘Nothing, really,’ and he said, ‘Why don’t you become a cop?’”
He spent two years as a correctional officer at the Fresno County Jail and a year with the Scotts Valley Police Department before joining the San Benito Sheriff’s Department last October. And for Miller, San Juan Bautista is not just his beat; it’s his home, as he moved there with his wife last July.
“I like that it is a small, quiet town,” he said. “I like being able to walk to the grocery store. My wife and I have not had a chance to explore it much, but we have liked what we have seen. It’s a good place to live.”
Miller is scheduled to patrol the town on Wednesdays through Saturdays from 2 p.m. to midnight, though there is some flexibility to cover local events. He is also hoping to spend some time doing community outreach, particularly with the two local schools.
“I am trying to set something up with the elementary school,” he said. “I hope to start a few hours earlier and walk around during lunchtime once a week or so. I am hoping to change kids’ perspectives, from them watching TV and maybe thinking cops are all bad to thinking, ‘Well, not in my town.’”
When Miller is not scheduled on Sundays through Tuesdays, policing reverts to random patrols and responding to calls from the sheriff’s department. Level 1 Private Security will continue its nightly patrols of San Juan Bautista as well.
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