By: James A. Greer
Several weeks ago, a friend attended the memorial service of Denver Police Officer Celena Hollis. The friend, a female police sergeant, remarked that it was unlike other law enforcement funerals she’d attended. “There were fifty pairs of shoes lined up, each with a red bow. She loved shoes.”
Celena was a single mom from Detroit, having worked as an officer there before coming to Denver. In addition to her full-time job, she took on a number of causes. An American soldier needed a bone marrow transplant, so she organized a benefit. The well-respected patrolwoman was president of the Black Officer’s Association. Celena volunteered time at “Especially Me,” an organization that mentors high school girls. Unique woman? Definitely…and not at all.
I am a police officer, lawyer and author of two published works, one a full-length novel (Out of Ideas, a romantic suspense). I write about what I know. I know cops, the situations in which they find themselves, and what the job does to them. My stories tell mostly of those who succumb to the siren song of service, adventure and courage that drew us there in the first place.
I write about women cops.
“You’re a guy,” I’m told. “What do you know about women? Isn’t a writer supposed to start with the things they know?” Yes. I’ve taken the time to listen to policewomen.
The experience of women in police work is an array of triumphs and travails. The truth – law enforcement continues to be a male-centric profession. Regardless of organizational gender-neutral pronouncements, the informal reward system among the cops still prizes guns, guts and glory…mostly in that order. A common perception among women is that the guys would prefer the company of like-minded men. To an extent they are right. For so many reasons, women thrive anyway.
Women react differently to work experiences than their brother officers. I write in an upcoming novel about a traffic accident that ejects the male driver onto a roof, resulting in his death (true!). The men stand around discussing velocities, trajectories and impact force. The women (my main character and her firefighter friend) discuss the possibility of a new widow home reading a romance novel, not knowing her lover was dead. A real life insight into policewomen? Over many years, in many situations I’ve watched it happen.
Of course, policewomen fall in love. They find Mr. Right, they find Mr. Wrong, they find Mr. Holy Crap! Some of their relationships work, some struggle and a few are train wrecks. Convincing editors, however, that a woman officer could remain in a battering relationship is an uphill battle, yet…. It makes the characters more than just human and vulnerable, it makes them realistic. A woman cop with an asshole for a husband? And she stays?
On the other hand, the love stories that work often seem Jekyll and Hyde-esque. A friend – a woman detective who is a former Marine Captain. Her husband is a patrol officer who is also a sniper on the SWAT team. Together, they told the story of him trying to entice her cat from a tree, using a sea bag (a duffle, more or less), a compound hunting bow and a tin of tuna. It was her precious cat. Her husband had to get it down.
Male officers who’d gathered around, listening to the tale, had the same response – it’s a cat. If a hunting dog was stuck somewhere that would be different. Cats are everywhere. Cats are interchangeable, disposable. Cats are a nuisance.
The detective was aghast. We were talking about her cat.
Her husband’s elaborate scheme was doomed from the start and failed miserably. I don’t recall how they finally got the cat, but the detectives take away was that her husband, the man in her life, had failed her.
Portraying strong woman in novels acknowledges the real heroes who carry pink handcuffs, complain when a fight results in a broken nail and hasten home to breastfeed their baby. Often, insights critical to character development present themselves in the most ordinary circumstances. A six foot one female officer reacted indignantly one morning to kidding about her height. “I can’t buy anything off the rack,” she complained. “Sometimes, I have to shop for clothes in the men’s department.” How is that not solid gold to a writer?
Why not take a strong yet sensitive woman, park her in a dying relationship and have her pursue a murderer? Out of Ideas does that and more. Sheriff’s deputy Karen O’Neil responds to a fatal airplane crash near Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Her almost ex-husband is a jerk, her job boring compared to her years as a San Diego cop and she’s desperately lonely. What could possibly go right, standing next to airplane wreckage in a cornfield, ankle deep in mud?
A strange place to find love? If you think so, you don’t know women cops.
Celena Hollis’s daughter spoke at the funeral my friend attended. She wondered who was going to check her homework and correct the spelling, now that mom was gone. Sometimes, I don’t feel worthy of the people about whom I write.
James Greer’s assignments during his twenty-eight year law enforcement career have included patrol officer, CSI, detective, detective sergeant, and SWAT Hostage Negotiations Team Leader. He is presently a patrol sergeant. He holds a degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University in Boston and a Juris Doctor from Syracuse University College of Law. He resides with his wife Pat in Lakewood, Colorado. Reach him at http://Bikecopblog.blogspot.com