This is the first in an ongoing series of profiles on community members and organizations that partner with One Place and our Child Advocacy Center to fight child abuse in the community.
At practically every stop in a military and civilian law-enforcement career spanning four decades, Onslow County Sheriff Hans Miller has confronted child abuse.
During his two terms as sheriff, he has used that experience to escalate the fight against crimes on special victims of all kinds, including children. Throughout his career, he has made working as a team with local agencies such as One Place a priority. As he approaches the end of his tenure, Sheriff Miller says he hopes that approach has a lasting impact.
Few individuals have participated in the fight against child abuse at so many levels: as a military police officer, as a federal and state investigator, and locally first as an airport police chief and now as the county’s top law-enforcement officer.
After he took over as sheriff in 2014, Miller expanded the role of child abuse investigations by bringing them under the umbrella of a separate Special Victims Unit, where money and positions were reallocated to focus on cases involving women and children. “I saw a need to break it away from the general criminal unit because it takes special experience and special knowledge to do that (work),” the sheriff said.
The number of detectives specifically assigned to such cases was increased from two to six. “My SVU detectives are trained in juvenile crimes, both when juveniles are victims and juveniles are perpetrators, but also crimes against women,” Miller said, adding that assigning female investigators to the unit was an important part of the realignment. The sheriff said improving the “the trust factor” between victims and investigators took a place of emphasis alongside building deputies’ experience and training.
Sheriff Miller’s background in law enforcement in Onslow County began during his days in the Marine Corps, where he spent his final 14-and-a-half years as a commissioned officer assigned to military police, including his concluding stint as provost marshal aboard New River air station, serving as the equivalent of a police chief. He not only became familiar with the military aspects of life in the county, working with civilian agencies such as PEERS and the Department of Social Services also became an important part of his routine. Eventually he became an important advisor in the formation of the Onslow County Child Advocacy Center, now known as One Place Child Advocacy Center.
Once he retired from the Marine Corps in 1997, Miller was recruited to work for the State Bureau of Investigation, where he served as an intern during his undergraduate studies at UNC Wilmington. After working as a crime-scene investigator, mostly working homicides, he also became a part of a new SBI unit assigned to computer crimes. He was able to put his well-established interest in technology fully into use. “Geeks rule,” is how Miller now explains it.
The SBI assignment led to a partnership with the FBI in southeastern North Carolina, and a primary focus of the computer investigations became crimes against children. “It involved the chat rooms, the grooming process, and child pornography, which I think is absolutely evil,” Miller said.
Before he was elected sheriff in 2014, Miller also served as police chief at Albert J. Ellis Airport, where his awareness of issues related to child trafficking and domestic abuse also came into play.
While the One Place Child Advocacy Center works with all government law-enforcement agencies in Onslow County, including those aboard military bases, slightly more than half of all cases evaluated at the CAC are referrals from the Sheriff’s Office Special Victims Unit, often in collaboration with the Department of Social Services. The CAC’s work includes medical evaluations, forensic interviewing, victim advocacy, and mental health support.
“Before we had a Child Advocacy Center, DSS would interview; law enforcement would interview; the doctors would interview during the examination,” Sheriff Miller said.
Such investigations often required transporting a child to an advocacy center in other locations, such as Greenville or Wilmington, he said. “Our Partnership for Children at that time saw a need because our population was growing so much, that we needed to have a local Child Advocacy Center.
Miller explained why he feels the CAC is effective: “Bring the child victim into a home-friendly environment, where there are toys and the child feels comfortable. Have a trained forensic interviewer. Take a look at the child medically. While the interview is going on, DSS and law enforcement don’t have to re-interview, because they are watching the interview. It avoids the re-victimization of a child.”
Since the CAC opened in August 2010, it has handled nearly 1,400 cases assigned to the Sheriff’s Office. The children are victims of physical and sexual abuse, pornography, and serious neglect. The cost associated with that work alone is estimated at $2.5 million. But, as Sheriff Miller noted, that is only the tip of a very expensive iceberg when it comes to the costs of child abuse, mostly funded by taxpayers.
Add to that the financial costs of the investigations, as well as the costs of operating the courts and the jails, and the price tag becomes astronomical. The impact is also evident in other societal problems, such as drug abuse and mental illness, many of which are handed down from generation to generation.
“We hear about breaking the cycle,” the sheriff said. “When a child is abused repeatedly, it becomes the new normal. And then when they become parents, are they going to offend? Are they going to do that kind of behavior?”
As Sheriff Miller sees it, the role of the family plays a critical factor in protecting children. “As a father, the safety of children has always been a high priority with me,” Miller said. “When our children were raised, we spent a lot of time with them,” he said, noting the importance of sports participation in his own family of two daughters and a son. “It is important for parents to be with their children.”
Onslow County’s young, transient, and expanding population continues to contribute to a high number of child abuse cases. The lack of a traditional family support system among many residents, who have moved here from other locations, presents a challenge.
Sheriff Miller said a community-wide response is needed. “If you are a young parent, maybe you have a baby, reach out to somebody who’s had a baby before, who has raised a toddler before. Find the good ones and ask them, ‘What can I do?’”
One Place communications consultant Elliott Potter spoke with Onslow County Sheriff Hans Miller in interviews conducted in April and August about the involvement of his office, and the sheriff’s own experiences, in the defense of children and families. Click here to read Onslow County Sheriff Hans Miller’s official biography.
For more information on the One Place Child Advocacy Center and our work in child abuse prevention and intervention visit www.oneplaceonslow.org
Support child abuse prevention and intervention efforts in Onslow County with a sponsorship for Diamonds and Denim 2021. All funds generated from the event are critical to helping end child abuse in our community. Reserve your sponsorship today.