FAIRFIELD - 10-28-11 — He was shot at only once and in the past 30 years he never had to fire his gun at anybody. This week, after three decades of wearing a badge, Sgt. Mike Mitchell of the Fairfield Police Department retired.
Getting shot at was so long ago that Mitchell can’t remember precisely when it occurred.
“I was walking into Allan Witt Park where a rap concert was taking place and someone started firing an automatic weapons,” he said. “I’m not sure it was directed at me but when a bullet hit a tree next to me it was like ‘Oh (expletive).’ ”
Mitchell joined the Fairfield police in 1988 after several years with the South San Francisco Police Department.
“You couldn’t get a more ethnically diverse community than Fairfield and compared with the rest of the Bay Area housing affordability couldn’t be beat,” Mitchell said of his choice to come to Fairfield.
For years, traffic was Mitchell’s niche. If someone called the police about any traffic concern or complaint they were referred to Mitchell. Traffic enforcement, crashes, drunken driving arrests and DUI checkpoints have been Mitchell’s bailiwick for the past several years.
“Mike always came to work every day with a smile on his face,” said Police Chief Walt Tibbet. “He was a valuable asset for the department and the city. His experience and passion in the traffic unit will be sorely missed.”
The memories Mitchell takes with him are both good and bad.
Mitchell, who has seen more than his share of grisly fatal crashes on the roadways over the years, says he has many bad memories, a fact of life in police work. Mitchell pauses to think if one particular memory is most compelling. He spent six years working as a detective helping solve the most serious crimes, including numerous homicides.
“The worst memory is the realization of how truly evil some people can be when they put their mind to it,” he said. “Yeah, that’s kind of generic but I’ll just leave it at that.”
At the opposite end of emotional spectrum is the case of Oscar the Grouch. Mitchell was working patrol late at night when he saw a car make a bad turn onto Texas Street. Mitchell made a U-turn and started to follow the car that turned and abruptly turned again, parking behind a downtown building. Mitchell saw the driver running from the car before he jumped headfirst into a dumpster. The driver paused a moment and then popped his head up out of the dumpster, looked straight at Mitchell and then pulled the bin lid down, closing it.
“He was pretty drunk. I guess he thought I’d just go away,” Mitchell said.
The drunken driver took his case to trial. He claimed Mitchell had just discovered him in the garbage bin where he had hidden himself to do drugs.
“Took the jury 16 minutes to find him guilty,” Mitchell said with a smile.
Fairfield changed a lot during Mitchell’s tenure.
“When I started here, the population was roughly 60,000. I remember working night shift and the freeway would be completely empty between three and five in the morning. Now the morning commute starts at three and that’s just as the traffic from the bars closing at two in the morning is just getting off the roads. The roads are a lot more crowded these days.”
One of the things that has been a constant throughout Mitchell’s years in Fairfield is the support of the community and the commitment to improve the community.
“One thing I’ve seen consistently over the years in Fairfield is there are a lot of people who care deeply about this city,” he said. “It’s a city that always had people willing to step up and help.”
Mitchell says some of his best memories were working with local youth. His police duties took on counseling and parental components during a four-year stint assigned to Rodriguez High School and he still occasionally encounters students he supervised during Drug Abuse Resistance Education classes he led.
“Over the years I’ve become a lot more patient than I was before,” he said. “I’ve dealt with so many different people and have come to see that everyone is different and unique.”
“It’s been a privilege and a pleasure. I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve the public.”