Last spring, Mills, who is lead officer for the UCLA Medical Center and Medical Plaza, was at a training class with her fellow officers when Chief Clarence Chapman called her name. “I must have had this look of shock on my face because the chief looked at me and said, ‘Yes, you’re the one. You are Debbie Mills, and you are Officer of the Year.’ Everyone commented on how shocked and surprised I was.”
The award is given yearly to an officer who has shown a long-term commitment to the UCLA community, often going “above and beyond” what he or she is asked to do. “That encapsulates what Debbie Mills has done,” said Sgt. Jim Vandenberg, one of Mills’ supervisors. “She’s a self-starter, a self-initiator. She extols the concepts of community-oriented policing here at UCLA.”
Mills said: “It just caught me off-guard. I don’t think I did anything above and beyond what anybody else has done.”
But the people with whom Mills interacts every day would disagree. When she walks her beat through the medical center and medical plaza, people wave and greet her with a smile. She responds in kind.
“I like the fact that the people in this community feel that they have their own police officer,” Mills said. “People are comfortable enough to come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I have a problem: Is there anything you can do?’ And it makes you feel good that they have that much confidence in you, that much respect, that they can come over and ask for help.”
A native of West Virginia, Mills attended the West Virginia State Police Academy and worked for the Weirton Police Department for three years. In 1984, she came to California and worked as a security guard at the MGM studios in Culver City, where her supervisor encouraged her to get back into police work. Three years later, Mills was hired at UCLA, where she has served as a detective and field training officer.
Despite the lower crime rate at the university, UCLA’s police officers still find themselves in dangerous situations. Mills was awarded a Medal of Valor from the UCPD Council of Chiefs in 1988 when she and Officer Wayne King risked their lives to rescue a fellow officer from a burning sorority house on Hilgard Avenue.
“Police work is police work anywhere in the state, but what I like about the university is the setting itself,” Mills said. “It’s a diverse community. Not just the cultures, but the people — from professors to students, doctors to administrative assistants. It’s a city within a city.”
The people, Mills added, make it worthwhile. “Especially since 9/11, people have come up to me and said, ‘Thank you. Thank you for doing the job you do.’ And it feels really good.”