Hi everyone! Today I am beyond excited to welcome the fabulous James Buchanan to the blog. James’ Taking the Odds series (the first of which Sammy reviewed on Wednesday), was one of the very first things I ever read in m/m romance. I remember clearly how much I loved it right away (let me tell you, the balcony sex scene is unforgettable). After that I pretty much gobbled up James’ entire backlist. So I was super excited when James agreed to stop by to talk to us more about writing cops for Men in Uniform Week. Welcome James!
Cops. Why do I write cops? I think, maybe, it’s because they get short shrift in fiction.
Do not get me wrong. I love cops and that is a major factor in the average boy in blue focus of my stories. I have a uniform fetish. I slow down at auto accidents, not to rubberneck the crash, but to see which department’s showed up. Give me jack-boots, a nightstick and a hard body and I’m yours, baby. You want to know the subtle differences between LAPD and RPD uniforms, I’ve got it down…nailed it from 50feet once, it’s a subtle thing about the patches and such. Riverside sports a shield patch in royal blue and gold stitching; LAPD does not put patches on uniformed officers – special units excepted. Pasadena, theirs are more of a truncated dark navy tear drop with gold.
But, that love of the uniform would only carry me so far. I’d be drabbling out the cookie cutter silent, but not-really-all-that-deep, macho man that is about as entertaining as conversing with a cardboard cut-out. I write them because I know that they are both more, and less, than most people give them credit for. They are first and foremost, human beings.
Each cop is in the department for a different reason. Some wanted a steady pay check, some have something to prove, some need to give back to their communities and there are a few who did it on a dare – my friend Lance in college was one of those. He turned out to be a damn good cop. My uncle, he owned a body shop, and went into the force at close to age 40 (he was in DAMN good shape at 40) because he needed insurance for his family. He was also a damn good cop.
People say that cops are a family. Yeah, the fraternity of police is likely the most dysfunctional family out there: don’t think “Brady Bunch,” think “the Sopranos.” They work together, but it is not always the well oiled machine the public perceives it to be. Like any organization, there are good cops, bad cops and the mediocre cops. Cops live in a world populated by, OMG, other not so perfect human beings and like a family, they don’t really get a say in who the other people in the department are. Every call out has the potential to swing the eye of departmental or pubic scrutiny on their actions. Even if they come out the other end clean, a potential misstep can loom over their psyche for months.
They are trained in hyper-vigilance. It is so ingrained that driving through traffic on a day off, a good cop is aware of 50 or more things that no other drive on the road even notices. Watch a cop walk into a restaurant – as my friend ZA Maxfield related to me – and the cop will look for a seat with the back to the wall. They need to see everything. If they can’t position themselves adequately, they will be distressed. It may manifest only slightly, but if you’re looking, you can tell. They are never “off duty.”
And that stress, it’s not a build up and release. I’ve been on a ride along with the, now defunct, CRASH units of the LAPD. **And just a side note, the reason you often see cops at fast food joints is not because of their allegedly terrible diets – it’s 24/7 operation with decent bathrooms and hot coffee. We’d do a couple of hours patrol and then break at 12:30 am at MickyD’s to use the john and swill some caffeine. ** And in the shift I was there, we had the moments of HOLY SHIT I’M GOING TO DIE terror that dissipated in the blink of an eye. You are left in a monumental fight or flight reflex that has nowhere to go and you have to swallow it down and move on to two hours of riding around wondering what’s going to happen next.
But, honestly, one place of stress that folks think is there – death on the job – is actually not all it’s trumped up to be. You are more likely to die on the job as a fireman, farmer or heavy equipment operator. Taxi Drivers are victims of homicide at 4 times the rate of police. That’s not to say that police don’t have dangerous jobs. However, they are trained to maximize their survival and diffuse hostile situations. This tends to make them seem more confident then they are. You train to respond a certain way enough times, and like muscle memory, the training kicks in.
Cops don’t focus on only catching criminals. For the most part they want to get the RIGHT bad guy, sometimes that means doing things that are counter-intuitive. If you can prove that this schmo over here didn’t commit X crime, it can weed out the chaff until you’re left with the person who had to have done it. Also, the majority of their time is not spent on solving or investigating crimes. A lot of their day is invested in community calls – dealing with the homeless or mentally ill, neighbor to neighbor disputes that have escalated and need diplomatic defusing or providing information to business about recent crime trends. And there’s paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork.
And that cynical gumshoe… yeah, they burn out quick. That is not to say that there isn’t a lot of really dark humor running around a department. That’s not cynicism, it’s a coping mechanism. You have to make yourself laugh at certain things or they will force you to tears. I could go through rounds of stories of the criminal complaints I processed in one job, but suffice it to say that I learned to make fun of the technique of the guy giving a Doberman a blow job (yes, he filmed it) rather than throw up or to snicker with everyone else about the officer who detained the suspect for a few minuets, and what kind of dance partners they made, instead of thinking about the fact that suspect was detained for raping a teen in the bathroom. Although that may come across as cynicism it is anything but.
There is never a moment that officers forget that they deal in people’s lives. That gang-banger with his brains all over the street has a mom. The homeless guy who’s shit his pants and is screaming at the air may be a decorated veteran. Officers come upon most of us when we are at our worst and they are expected to be at their best. And it is a testament to how much they value what they do in that they run towards danger when the rest of us run away.
That complexity, the diverse humanity that presents itself to the pubic as a unified body, men putting their own safety in the background, who really believe that they are there, to steal the LAPD motto, “to serve and protect”… that, right there, is why I write cops.