Exclusive Interview with Lt. Randy Sutton (Ret.)
By George Beck
Lt. Sutton is an intelligent law enforcement leader whose insights are crystal clear. He’s written for many major publications, including the New York Post. He is routinely featured on national media stations where he stands up and defends the noble law enforcement profession. He’s a best selling and award-winning author. He is recognized as one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He’s trained thousands of officers nationwide on the subject of “Policing with Honor.”
NJ BLUE NOW: You’ve acted in some major blockbuster movies, wrote bestselling books, and have appeared in national publications, what was this experience like for a cop?
Lt. Sutton: Of all my experiences first and foremost, the most satisfying and challenging was being a cop. The other stuff gave me a different dimension and experiences to draw on. The acting was very fun and allowed me to meet people that I never could have if I didn’t pursue the opportunities. I love pursuing challenges. The writing has been life-changing for me. Not only does it allow me the ability to express myself, but the written word is incredibly powerful and touches lives.
Did your department welcome your celebrity?
Well let me put it this way, I had a lot of support from some people within the department but it also caused resentment and jealousy among some. I got sideways with one of the Sheriff’s that I worked for and he actually did not allow some episodes of the TV show “COPS to air because as he told the producer, “This isn’t the fucking Randy Sutton show!”. It’s amazing though, how many letters and communications as well as face to face meetings where police officers on my own department and many others said that they grew interested in policing from seeing me on that show and some of the movies. I consider that, as nothing but positive.
Your written and speaking talents are impressive. What is it you did to develop these skills?
I’ve been asked where I was trained to write and what classes did I take in college many times. The truth is, I barely got out of high school and never took a writing class in my life. I guess I was self-trained because, as a child, I was very sickly and was relegated to bed for much of my childhood. I couldn’t go out and play like other kids often and so found solace and entertainment in books. I love to read and grew to love stories and adventures in the pages of my books. That love of reading continues to this day. But it was policing that created the writer within me. Being a witness and participant in the greatest dramas in life are part of ‘A Cops Life’ (hence the name of one of my books) and those experiences created a need within me to express them and share them.
You began your career here in NJ with the Princeton Police Department, and left it for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Many officers often think about switching departments, what was it that made you decide to pack up and head to Las Vegas?
It was one of the most difficult decisions that I ever made and in my case one of the best. I liked being a Princeton cop. It was my hometown, I knew everyone, I was comfortable, but there were two major issues. The leadership of the department sucked and more importantly, I was bored doing small town policing. I wanted action and in the immortal words of some wise man. “Be careful what you wish for” because going from a small town like Princeton to Las Vegas was a true culture shock. I had to go through the Academy again and start all over but it was all worth it. The greatest challenge was leaving my family and just picking up and starting over. Of course I was almost halfway to retirement in New Jersey and at the top of my pay scale as a Detective so taking a $10,000 pay cut was a bit tough as well. But I never looked back.
What was it about policing you enjoyed the most?
Two things really. I loved the action. I’m definitely an adrenaline junky and getting into the mix of a hot call was something that I still miss even after being retired a few years. But most importantly, I enjoyed playing a role in the lives of others, both the people whose lives mine intersected with on the streets, and as I became a Sergeant and then Lieutenant, my cops. I believe that there is no greater honor than being chosen to lead and being part of the lives of my officers was the most satisfying part of policing to me.
What did you dislike the most about policing?
That’s the easiest answer. The politics of policing. As I go around the country and speak to officers from small towns and big cities when I present my seminar “Policing With Honor” I hear the same complaint over and over. The men and women whonserve are not afraid of going out and facing the bad guys, they are afraid of their own administrations and their politics. That’s exactly the way I felt. I was constantly fighting the bosses because some wanted to make political sacrifices of my cops or “make an example” out of them. Being a cop means being a seeker of justice and that shouldn’t stop when you put on some stripes or bars or stars.
Right now you are a dominant force defending the law enforcement profession on social and mass media. What promoted you to get involved on this level?
When I was a still working I was pretty vocal about my views and that often got me in trouble with my bosses. Things have gotten much worse for those who are actively serving and they are powerless to voice their concerns and opinions because they know that their agencies will destroy them. It’s happened time and time again. Out of frustration, an officer will make a social media posting or public comment and the wrath of the Chief or Sheriff will descend upon them and punish them for their point of view. They didn’t have a voice. Since I have somewhat of a forum, all I did was say what they were feeling and things snowballed from there. A few months ago, after I did a video directed at President Obama accusing him of his anti-police strategy that was seen by almost two million people, many of them police officers, the Huffington Post referred to me as “The Voice of American Law Enforcement.” Of all the things that I’ve been called over the years, and there have been a few, trust me, that is the greatest honor I could ever have been given.
What is causing all the negative sentiment against law enforcement?
That’s a topic we could spend days on. America is going through social upheaval and the police are always on the front line of social change. They are an easy target because they are the most visible representation of government. Add to this the revolution of camera and social media and sprinkle in an organized and well-funded liberal campaign, a media that feeds on drama even if they know it isn’t true, and you have the perfect storm of anti-police movements. Then, of course, let me not leave out our own President and his Department of Justice who would much rather investigate police officers and agencies than organized criminal elements masquerading as “social and civil rights movements.” I think this is the most difficult time to be a police officer in history.
Is there something we can do to counter all the negativity against law enforcement?
Yes there is and that is part of my mission. I believe in one really simple concept when it comes to confronting the critics of American Law Enforcement. It’s called ‘The Truth.’ The truth is that policing is the most misunderstood concept in the government. The truth is the vast majority of those who serve as law enforcement officers do so out of a sense of honor and integrity and perform their duties well. The truth is if the public knew the realities of policing and the men and women behind those badges, they would support them to a much greater degree. But the truth is law enforcement as a whole sucks at getting this message across. I am currently working on a national effort to change the perceptions of the American law enforcement officer. Watch out for it cause it’s coming!
What would you say to an officer out there who wants to get involved and speak out against the injustices against our profession, but is worried about retaliation from politicians and others who may try to destroy their career?
There are forums for bringing those views public but they have to be very careful. They need to read and understand the policies of their agencies first and foremost. Publications like NJ Blue Now and other law enforcement news sources are interested in a well-put-together article that expresses viewpoints. And I make myself available on Facebook and my website both for public discussion on my page and private conversations where I can be their voice.
Do you believe policing in America has changed drastically since you retired in 2010?
Policing itself has not really changed since the first Constable put on a badge. When I say that, I mean that people have always faced temptation, internal struggles, mental illness and so on. The human condition created challenges for police officers throughout history. The things that have changed on the positive side for law enforcement is training have vastly improved, equipment and technology including protective equipment is vastly better and accessible and education has improved. On the other side though, the dangers facing officers have never been greater. Physical danger from physical confrontations have always been part of the job but with the current breakdown in American society, lack of respect for any kinds of authority and a lack of fear of repercussions, more and more people who never would have thought of assaulting the police are feeling empowered to do so. The misuse of social media and lack of true leadership in police agencies has cost careers as well as lives.
Who do you admire in law enforcement?
I admire those cops and deputies and troopers and agents who still believe in the importance of what they do and go out every freaking day and do it with honor and integrity. I admire those who despite the rhetoric and biased news media are not afraid to make the car stops and pedestrian stops and face the criminal enemies that prey on the people they serve. And I admire those who still act with kindness and compassion and aren’t afraid to reach out with empathy when they feel they should. In other words, I admire most working cops.
George Beck is a police detective, writer and a Drew University Ph.D. candidate. He’s earned several degrees including an associate’s, bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. He is the author of The Killer Among Us (Noir Nation Books) and several other books. His nonfiction and short stories have been featured in magazines and anthologies nationally and internationally.