What is it about a Man in Uniform? by James Buchanan

What do you all look for when you’re reading about gay cops?  What turns you on or turns you off when you find a gay police officer in your books?

If you haven’t noticed, I tend to write about cops.  Looking back at my works, most all my novels feature someone in law enforcement.  My most recent novel, All or Nothing, features Brandon Carr a Riverside, CA Detective.  It’s the third in the Taking the Odds books.  I put him through the wringer in this book and a lot of his reactions come from being a law enforcement officer.

Cops don’t necessarily think like the rest of us. There is a mindset to being a cop.  Consider this, the salary may be great (LAPD starts HS grads at $45,000.00) but the downside is every day you step into a job that has a high probability of killing you.  And not just from the scum on the streets.  Labor laws in California presume that if a police officer has a heart attack it was caused by his job.  They come in constant contact with the worst of us most times, and the best of us at our worst time.

Getting into the mindset of someone like Brandon or Chase from Personal Demons is not easy.  A lot of the “war stories” I heard from officers while working in the prosecutor’s office filter into my books and how my characters view their world.  How cops react to things and what they think is funny says a great deal about their mindset. 

The video that Brandon views at the end of Cheating Chance – where the dog is screwing the guy – it’s a real video and was my hazing into the realm of us (law enforcement) v. them (the rest of the world).  The detectives I worked with punked me by telling me I needed bring for review an evidence tape referred to as in-re-Bobo.  As custodian of the tape, I had to watch it with the officers who requested it.  I guess it says something about my personality that after the first cop slipped and cracked up… I was laughing right along with the detectives & uniforms.  I also must have passed the “test” as that’s when I started getting offers of ride-alongs and recruitment pitches. 

Trying to understand these dedicated professionals is a constant process with me.  When I’m in court, I will sit near the Bailiff and talk with them.  Cops love to talk about what they do – with the caveat of they will never let you into how they really felt about something.  You have to be able to see into the types of words they’re using and how they’re saying things in order to glimpse the emotions under the surface.  I am continually picking up books written by police officers about what they do.  Again, a great deal will discuss what they did, but not directly how it hit them inside. The book I Love a Cop, dealing with what families need to understand about what’s going on in the minds of the their sworn loved ones, makes an appearance in All or Nothing. 

I read law enforcement text books to understand the detailed minutia about the most routine task, like a traffic stop, that pervade every moment of a cop’s life. Cops live in a constant state of hyper vigilance.  Officers don’t look at your eyes for cues, they watch your hands because that’s where an attack will come from. 

Being a gay cop is even harder.  Again, I don’t live the life of a gay cop.  I do read their narratives.  Coming Out From Behind the Badge and A Matter of Justice are both great collections of personal experiences of gay and lesbian law enforcement officers. Buttino’s A Special Agent recounts the witch hunt into his sexuality that led to his firing from the FBI.  Police organizations are slow to catch up to the rest of the world especially in areas of diversity.  It is a top-down paramilitary world where those who are responsible for making change are rooted in over a century of tradition. 

Do I get it 100% right…heck no.  I’m not a gay cop.  But I strive for an era of authenticity that will ring true.  I think that is one of the things that readers really like about my cops.  They believe that guys like Brandon are cops.  They believe in Brandon as a gay cop.

I know I appreciate it. I watch a show like Southland (TNT). Now, I don’t watch a lot of TV.  Most stuff out there is crap.  But this show rings true for me.  It draws me in because the characters are believable as cops.  Each one of them is a cop first and a father, mother, brother second.  Mostly, I guess I connect with the show because I like Officer John. 

He’s a stoic, hard ass cop – a field training officer who believes it’s his job to push rookies to breaking, because if they can’t survive him they won’t survive the streets.  But the coolest thing about him, he’s gay.  And gay in a way you’d probably never see on say, Will & Grace.  Out, but not in your face about it.

What’s really great about the TV show is Southland gives you the story about John’s sexuality in the same manner it presents his addiction to prescription pain medications.  Or in Officer Dewy’s alcoholism that is so rampant he shows up for his shift reeking.  Or Detective Adams’ willingness to get involved in people’s lives to help them off the streets.  Or Rookie Ben’s…yeah, you get the idea. 

That is what makes it so great for me.  Well, and the fact that the producers and writers have always been very up front about, “Yes, John is gay.”

I know what I look for in law enforcement characters.  What makes it or breaks it for you as readers?

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

16 comments

  • Wow, this is a really interesting post!

    I’m all for a man in uniform, but I think that, for me, it becomes a turn off when the author clearly doesn’t know what they’re talking about and the whole thing comes off as fake or contrived. I’ve got family in the L.A. Sheriff’s department so I’ve been exposed to that nearly my whole life; and while I have no first hand experience myself, I’ve learned enough second-hand knowledge to know little details, so it bugs me when authors don’t care enough to do a little research and make it seem at least a little authentic.

    So, having said all that, I really appreciate that you have done your research. Even with just getting the little things correct, it makes for a much better, more authentic read. And….it also makes that anal-retentive side of me really happy as well. 🙂

    Also, not to completely change the subject…but ever since I read the books I’ve been kinda curious about something. If I may, James, what made you choose the Inland Empire as a setting? I’m from the IE (though more toward the mountains), so it made me a little (okay more than a little) excited to read that Brandon was from Riverside – an area I’m in nearly every day.

    And yes, I know I’m weird for getting excited about something like that, but what can I say? 🙂

    Reply
    • Nichele,

      I’m glad you like my boys.

      The great IE. Well, 1st I wanted Brandon to be from So.Cal. San Diego or Los Angeles are both a little to cosmopolitan for Brandon’s paranoia to survive. Not that there aren’t homophobic members in those departments, but the line policy is inclusive. Heck they have recruitment booths at pride fairs.

      With my last job, I was in Riverside at least 3x a month. So I know it — like the Middle Eastern fast food place that used to be at the foot of the state office tower (no hummus after hearings -ahhhggg). I also have family there. With both of those I could tap into the vibe of a freaking major metropolis that still believes and acts as if it’s a tiny rural town.

      And then the big one for authenticity. My uncle retired a few years back from the RPD. It was he who told me of the legendary ticket war between RPD and CHP. So from his stories I got clues of the departmental culture as well as hints of where to dig to find things like the Attorney General Compliance order.

      That’s the short version of why Riverside.

      Reply
  • Thanks for sharing this, James! While I may get annoyed at those fictional closeted cops who treat others like crap (Jake Riordan, Brandon, Tom Danzel), I’m likely to forgive them if they are able to (or are forced to) work through that and grow.

    I also think that letting go of that hyper-vigilance and giving up control to someone they trust is really sexy – see, for example, Brandon when he gives up control to Nicky. 🙂

    Loved All or Nothing, btw!

    Reply
    • I also think that letting go of that hyper-vigilance and giving up control to someone they trust is really sexy – see, for example, Brandon when he gives up control to Nicky.

      Good point, Chris! That is really hot. 🙂

      Reply
  • Val. Hmm, I would have to say it would depend on the Defense attorney. I know there were a couple way back when I was there that were spoken of as “Stand Up Guys.” Guys who weren’t “righteous” they just did their job – and often very well – but the cops didn’t see that as cheating to get there. Also though the cops are in and out of the prosecutor’s office all the time, so it fosters more interaction.

    And, I guess the reason I’ve never written lawyers (aside from the angels Anel and Zac in Redemption) is it’s too close. I can sometimes see the funny things. But most of law is in the minutia and is frankly pushing paper. In 13 years of practice I’ve had two “Perry Mason” moments and both came after hours of tedious work — the biggest was on the 10th bankers box of documents delivered to us by the other side which I had to read all of it I found the letter that blew their case apart. The throwing the letter down on the table during deposition was great. The 30 hours of my life spent reading contracts and mundane correspondence not so fun.

    >Tam. So Brandon pisses you off then? Snort. Let me know what you think after you finish All or Nothing.

    Reply
    • In 13 years of practice I’ve had two “Perry Mason” moments and both came after hours of tedious work — the biggest was on the 10th bankers box of documents delivered to us by the other side which I had to read all of it I found the letter that blew their case apart. The throwing the letter down on the table during deposition was great. The 30 hours of my life spent reading contracts and mundane correspondence not so fun.”

      Whoa! That does sort of take the glamour off it, doesn’t it? 🙂

      I’ve got to say that I’m with Tam in terms of finding it hard to read when a closeted cop takes his lover for granted or, even worse, takes his self-hatred or frustration out on the lover. The book has to have a lot going for it already (especially in terms of character complexity) for me to continue reading about such a distressing situation.

      I thought you handled it so well, especially in Inland Empire with Brandon looking at Nick while they were working together in Brandon’s workplace, and thinking, “Dude! Can you NOT be so gay, please???” It was very poignant because obviously Nick is what he is and everything about him attracts Brandon, and yet it’s causing Brandon severe panic in the workplace. There’s this contradictory tension going on that’s really wrenching.

      And you can’t really blame Brandon for his realism. I mean, the whole thing with his landlady? Sometimes I’ve got to wonder if gay cops fear that straight cops won’t respond to a call for backup if they’re in trouble?

      So what do I look for in law enforcement characters? Like Tam, it’s the realism. I want to know about the details. That’s why I’ll read Joseph Wambaugh’s books. I like to see them interacting with other cops because it’s such an intricate hierarchy, but I also like to see them interacting with citizens because there can be a lot of tension there as well. So many people really hate cops. And cops have to follow their leads through talking with citizens. Temptation is interesting as well — cops that have to deal with attempts to bribe them or tempt them to the criminal side.

      A deal breaker for me in terms of reading about cops? There probably isn’t anything that would turn me off. I might get a little surly if I sense that an author is faking it and whisking me past the details at the precinct house that he or she doesn’t really know and hasn’t researched, but I don’t think I’d complain too strenuously in a review or anything. We get a lot of that in m/m where the cops are always the lone wolf type who conveniently stays away from the workplace (which would require research), but even that can be interesting to read. 😉

      Reply
      • Val:
        We get a lot of that in m/m where the cops are always the lone wolf type who conveniently stays away from the workplace (which would require research), but even that can be interesting to read

        and truthfully, lone wolves are few and far between in law enforcement. Other cops don’t like “cowboys” because you can’t rely on them. And you have to be able to 150% rely on the idea that other cops in your department will be there to back you up. Policing is a “group” activity. Again and again when you read the narratives of officers something may be told in this happened to me, but there’s always the backdrop of the department and other officers in there.

        Reply
        • “Other cops don’t like ‘cowboys’ because you can’t rely on them. And you have to be able to 150% rely on the idea that other cops in your department will be there to back you up. Policing is a “group” activity.”

          That makes a lot of sense. I’ve heard cop partners can become as close as married couples in some respects. I mean, they’re risking their lives for each other on a daily basis.

          Reply
    • Tam. So Brandon pisses you off then? Snort. Let me know what you think after you finish All or Nothing.

      Ummm. Yes. But he’s hot enough I let it go. 😀

      Reply
  • I definitely like your cops, James!

    Generally speaking, tho’, what I look for in law enforcement characters probably has nothing to do with reality. Like Tam said, seeing more of the little details rather than the stereotypical ‘action’ scenes is cool. Although I do like the exciting stuff as well.

    I’m particularly fond of seeing the guys who have so much control, knowledge and ability in their jobs become weak-kneed when faced with romance or even just really great sex. I like seeing the strong surrender (which is why I enjoy your Brandon so much).

    So often, cops are one-dimensional characters, so it’s fun when they show up as complex, multi-faceted people.

    Reply
    • Wren, yeah, cops can lend themselves to the cardboard cutout model. Since the police culture tends to present that cookie-cutter face and attitude you have to really look behind that and see the people.

      Reply
  • Hmmm. Well, not actually knowing any cops (I try to avoid most brushes with the law – or at least the kind of brushes that would get me fired) I tend to appreciate a person who is in control and I guess that’s what comes through. Someone who’s not going to freak out and go running into the night leaving the other guy to face the serial killer. Cops are trained I suppose to a dgree to suppress those “screaming like an 8 year old” urges and do what has to be done. That’s very appealing to me personally.

    I think they are underappreciated in general. They do so much crap work that gets them no respect and to be honest, $45 K is not big bucks for what they put up with. I get paid more than that and never worry that I’ll die when I go to work today.

    I like when cops in books give me a little inside taste of what being a cop is really like. Not necessarily chasing bad guys down alley’s and slapping the handcuffs on them, not the Hollywood cop story, but the real thing. The little details, the paperwork, the frustration with hierarchy and the usual crap we all deal with on the job but from their perspective. They have very public jobs and seeing a bit behind the persona is always interesting for me.

    I guess what turns me off in a book is when a closeted cop treats someone who cares about them really badly because of being in the closet. That really annoys me although the fact that the other person allows it also annoys me. LOL I like to see some resolution of that in some way or I just dislike people who jerk others around, even if you can “justify” it in some way. Get therapy deal with it, being an asshole is not an incurable disease. 😉

    Looking forward to your book. Have it in my TBR but I’m going to resist reading the review so I can have it fresh. The rating of 5 stars is enough for me. 🙂 Great post.

    Reply
  • James, this is totally, totally fascinating (how your work as a lawyer brings you in contact with the cops and how the two worlds intersect).

    You mentioned that it’s work with the prosecutors that brings you in contact with the cops. Are they as willing to talk with defense attorneys? Or is a defense attorney considered the “enemy”?

    What a totally invaluable source of material you’ve got for your fiction! (And if you ever wanted to write about lawyers, I’d buy it, too! I love legal thrillers and courtroom dramas. Do you think you ever would? Or is it too much to do the work all the time and then have to write about it?)

    Thanks for a great post! 🙂

    Reply

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