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Hard work, big heart earns Yuma detective top honors
Most folks would say that confronting grisly scenes of carnage would be the hardest part of investigating murders.
Det. Bill Martin disagrees.
To Martin, the hardest part of his job is often dealing with those left behind, telling moms, dads, brothers, and sisters that their loved one has left this world in a violent way.
"What do you say? What can you say?" Martin said. "Usually you have never met these people before and suddenly you're there with the most terrible news they can imagine. You're always as honest as you can be, without ever revealing too many details."
The detective, who works for the Yuma Police Department, is certainly a tough guy. But he stressed that no detective could - or should - escape the heart strain of death notification.
"You really feel people. You feel their loss," Martin said, adding that he's hugged some people. "If that's what is needed at the time, that's what I do."
It's that mix of strength and kindness that has earned this detective a good reputation throughout the police department and the community at large. Solid reputations don't come easily, either. Maybe that's why the police department recently honored Martin with its annual Office of the Year Award.
As a detective, Martin isn't shocked too often. This award changed that.
"Oh, this honor was a real surprise. I had no idea." He said it's a great feeling to be commended by one's colleagues, whose opinions a person holds high.
In addition to the big honor, Martin was also presented with three medals, all representing cases in which he showed excellence above and beyond the norm. He added, though, that he was pleased to see that other officers who participated in those cases were awarded as well.
"Those cases were team efforts. I was glad to see everyone involved be honored."
Visiting with Martin for a while, it's easy to see why he's both successful and well-liked. First, he's a retired Marine who brings direction, fortitude, and drive to the table. Then, he's also a pretty soft-spoken guy who likes to visit and is just an all-around nice guy.
Perhaps Martin learned those genteel character traits from his boyhood heroes.
"I always like cowboy movies, liked Gene Autry and watched 'The Lone Ranger,'' he said, chuckling.
Martin came to the police department in 1992. That was after serving several years as a deputy for the Yuma County Sheriff's Office.
He was born in Trenton, N.J., but grew up across the Delaware River in a small Pennsylvania town.
Long before law enforcement, Martin's first love was the military. The Vietnam War was raging and he was drafted into the Marine Corps. He even still remembers his number in that draft lottery - 154.
Martin said he wanted to be a Marine not only to serve his nation, but to also prove he could live up to being one of the highly regarded proud and few.
"I thought if my brother could do it, so could I," he said. "I'm sure that's how it was with a lot of families then."
During his time in the Marines, Martin got to see a lot of the world. He was stationed in places like Japan and Hawaii, the latter of which he described as "just paradise." Closer to home, a deployment to Key West, Fla., took him to witnessing the Cuban refugee crisis firsthand.
His vocation also brought him to Yuma - several times. He and his wife, Kathleen, moved to Yuma for the last time in 1981.
In all, Martin gave 20 years to the Marines, retiring in 1990 as a captain.
His shift into law enforcement began when he noticed numerous ads in The Sun for open positions at agencies throughout the community. Martin decided to do a ride-along with the sheriff's department, and after one night, he was hooked.
"It was very exciting," he said, grinning.
Martin enrolled in the law enforcement program at Arizona Western College and graduated at the top of his class. He was later hired by the sheriff's office and later went to the police department.
Martin said working as a detective is fulfilling work for him because he enjoys serving people and really likes investigations.
Even though his job must be stressful, there is certainly an undeniable rush as well.
"It's also the adrenaline. It's truly exciting. You go from absolute boredom to God knows what's going on. People can be killed in just seconds. There's an excitement there, obviously.
"I also like puzzles, putting all the pieces together," he said. "There's reasons for things that happen. I have to try to sort things out and figure it all out. That can be fun."
But there's still one thing Martin just can't figure out in life.
"It's hard for me to understand just what people can do to other people, be so cruel to other people," he said. "People stabbing each other, people shooting each other, people abusing their children where they die.
Especially when the victims are kids, it just astounds me."
Leaving all of that at the office may be hard, but it's a must for Martin.
"I don't take anything home with me. I also try to keep things in perspective."
Faith also helps him a lot.
"I think you have to believe in something," he said. "My wife and I believe in God, we go to church and you leave a lot of things there. That faith really helps."
Darin Fenger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6860.