An Interview with Paul, Broward Sheriff’s Office
By Steven O. Evans, PhD
Where are you from?
I am one of the few from South Florida. I was born and raised in North Miami Beach but have also lived in New York and Boston.
What kinds of things do you like to do outside of work?
I’m a computer geek, so I like to do video production. When I go on vacations, I like to do music and video montages. When I took my mom to Alaska one year, I actually did the montage while we were on the trip. I studied video production in school, so now it’s a hobby for me.
I also enjoy bowling. I grew up bowling with my dad and have been bowling on leagues since I was in high school. Here’s a funny story, I was injured at work one year and broke my shoulder. My lieutenant asked the physician, “Doc, will he ever bowl again?” I’m not much of a beach person. The heat gets to me. If I go, it’s a chair and an umbrella. I’m probably one of the palest South Floridians you’ll see.
I work a lot and dedicate a lot of my time to work. So time with my friends is just chilling and vegging out or going out on the drive with them. Then heading back home to sleep.
I have two dogs, both of them were rescue. One is from the Humane Society off Griffin Road. The other was found on the street and surrendered to the police department. I fostered her for 30 days and after no one claimed her, I adopted her and named her Taser after my taser at work.
I also like to spend time with my family. I came out at 19 and have maintained a close relationship with them. It was never an issue with me being gay. My family still lives in Aventura. I go down once or twice a month for family dinners. At heart, I’m a momma’s boy so I talk to her pretty much once a week.
What’s the first thing you notice when you see a guy?
To be completely honest, I notice looks. I’m attracted to a built guy, someone who works out and goes to the gym regularly. I like a guy who’s bigger and stronger than I am. But once I get past that, it’s the eyes and the communication when I’m talking to him. Which is ironic, because when I’m out in public and being a cop, my head is constant on a swivel looking around. I’m constantly aware of my surroundings. That’s part of my training as a cop. So I have to apologize constantly because it appears that I’m not paying attention to the person that I’m with. When you’re a cop and you go through the training, it becomes part of who you are and part of your DNA. You’re always aware and on guard.
What’s your ideal date experience?
I like a date that is unique. Anyone can go to dinner. I don’t like to usually go out on the drive on a date, because you see your friends and they want to come up and have a conversation and that can distract from the date. I like cooking classes because you can do something together and have dinner at the same time. I don’t like movies on a first or second date because you can’t talk. I like going to have a drink. Or just eating down Las Olas or the art walk on Las Olas can be fun.
What’s it like to date a cop?
You’d almost have to ask them. [Laughs] I have to get over guys’ fantasies of dating a cop. For me, it’s a job. It’s not part of the relationship aspect of dating someone. On the relationship side, some guys have a hard time with the realities of dating a cop, especially with all the news stories of cops getting hurt while on duty. The reality hits them. Do they want to sit at home, stressing, “Is he coming home tonight?”
The other person also has to understand the emotional stress that the job can put on us. Sometimes I talk about my day at work, and discussing a bad day can be hard on both of us. There’s just a level of stress that goes with what we deal with on a day to day basis that comes into play with relationships. But, that’s part of it and I deal with it.
Why did you go into law enforcement?
It wasn’t part of my original plan. Twenty plus years ago I did show an interest in law enforcement. I wasn’t out yet. My parents knew I was gay and the culture was one that they thought I wouldn’t survive. So they outright refused. And being the mama’s boy that I am, I listened to what they said. I found other careers and started working at a restaurant. I went from host to line cook, and could have possibility gone into management. Then a friend told me about a job at an airline. I go down and interview. I was hired on the spot and spent eight years in the airlines.
After 9/11, I started reevaluating everything. I wanted to be closer to my family, have more stability, have more income, and not be flying around not knowing where I would be laying my head each night. So, it was either firefighting, police, or nursing. The police academy was the only one where you could to go school and still get paid. And, since I still loved to travel, I thought I could also transition into an air martial job.
Fast forward two years later, I joined the police department. I was moving up in the ranks, I was being respected, and the department was being good to me. I didn’t come out right away, but I was making friends. Thirteen years later I’m a sergeant. I came out to my co-workers and it just snowballed into the department. We don’t have an official liaison for the LGBT community, but I am one of the go-to people when there’s an event. I’ll be asked if I’m interested in attending or representing the department. We work a lot with the local SunServe organization. They have their prom coming and we provide their security so the kids have a safe place for their events. I also have organized “out” officers throughout the Broward County police departments to walk in the annual Stonewall parade.
What advice do you have for LGBT law enforcement in more conservative cities, where they may not be respected and accepted by their peers or community?
It’s hard to break into the “good old boys club.” For me when I started, I just came in to do my job. I didn’t make an issue about being gay. I purposely didn’t ask people about their personal lives, so they wouldn’t have to ask about mine. I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t lie about it and that I would be honest. So, I was prepared to answer their questions. But after I came out to work and did my job, and proved that I was just as good, if not better, than anyone else, the whole gay thing was a moot issue. No one really cared. So, I guess that’s the advice I would give, don’t make it an issue, and it won’t be an issue for anyone else.
I knew I was gay at 15. I came out at 19. It took four years to accept and understand it myself, so I can’t expect someone else to accept it in just 24 hours. If there’s an issue, just let it go, and let time work those wounds. I know there are departments that have witch hunts and you have to think about yourself. So, find the right fit for yourself and maybe find a department that’s more tolerant. It’s very difficult to be the one person that’s standing alone. But you can do that, you can do anything.
Is it difficult being the rule enforcer in social situations?
It’s not difficult, but it’s part of the personality that drives people to law enforcement. Most cops are type A personalities. We can control a situation. People call 911 when there’s a problem they can’t solve themselves and we need to control the setting. Working at local clubs, we are there to back up the security. We are a last resort when someone isn’t compliant. When someone sees us, he or she usually backs down because they know we mean business. Luckily we haven’t had any major issues. But we are there to make sure people are safe while taking the opportunity to reach out to the community. The interactions we have from the people have been amazing. Since this is a tourist area, we get people from overseas, being London or Turkey or wherever they’re from, taking pictures with us. Some come up and ask, “Are you gay?” They’re amazed that the police aren’t violent or harassing people at a gay bar. And then they’re amazed even more that we are gay, too, and out, because some of the countries they’re from, you can’t even be “out” socially.
There’s more human contact. We are real people. Most people’s contact with the police is negative like when we pull people over or come to their houses. But these kinds of things at the clubs, parades, and festivals are positive. Every Thursday we do a big, group photo and we call it the school or yearbook photo. And the crowd keeps getting bigger and bigger in them. The club and people post it to their social media.
Is there one tactic you have to diffuse a situation? [SACH: DELETE THIS SECTION FOR SPACE IF NECESSARY]
We call it verbal judo. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to talk my way out of some potentially violent situations. I can usually get through to people to understand the potential situations. Otherwise, we revert to training. There is a controlled hold or just ways to grab someone to restrict their movement. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had any violent situations at work.
Once I did get my shoulder broken. I was reaching out with my taser in my hand and fell. But since I had my taser in my hand, I fell on the soft part of my hand and broke my shoulder. The pain went up my arm and was incredible. I’ve never felt pain like that before. After more MRIs, they found out I had rotator tears. But other than that, I’ve been lucky.
What’s one of the worst situations you have encountered?
I think the worst was having to do a death notification. A guy on a motorcycle was hit by a drunk driver. I was very detached during the investigation because I have a job to do. But then I had to go do the notification to his family. I thought I would go meet with the spouse and then I would be on my way. I went to the house. It was a nice house, very nicely decorated. I met with the wife, but I wasn’t prepared to meet with the 13 year old daughter. And having to tell both of them, and her being 13, and that she wasn’t going to have her father any more. The two other deputies with me had not done a notification, either. There are certain things you are to say and not say, so they understand the finality. I was so nervous but wanted to be strong, so they wouldn’t fall apart. But I was thinking about when my dad had passed away. The whole time I was talking to them, I was thinking about when he passed. I was just trying to get through it so I could leave. That’s probably the hardest part about the job. The kind of stress that people can’t understand. It’s the difficulty in understanding how deep this can go.
What’s your best moment you can remember while on duty?
I was doing a child investigation because someone saw kids jumping off the peer to make sure there wasn’t anything criminal going on. The youngest was in the first grade. When I went to their house, the kid comes in and jumps in my lap and shows me his homework when he saw me in uniform. I don’t have kids but they were cute. There was no father in the family. But the look of awe and innocence in his eyes was amazing. I stayed for two hours and just helped him with his homework. I called my mom after the shift, and said, “You wouldn’t believe the day I just had.” That was one of my best moments.
If there is something you would tell the public that we could do to help you do your job better, what would it be?
Remember that we are human, too. The public expects a lot of us; we are police officers and they should. But don’t be quick to judge. The difficulties of the tasks can take an emotional toll on us as well. We have to continually balance doing the job that we must do with also being real people with real emotions. See us as unique individuals working to keep the community safe which requires mutual empathy and compassion. I love my work and what I am able to accomplish. Being able to make a difference in both the LGBT community and all of Broward County is very gratifying. I’m thankful to have a career that gives back while challenging me to be a better person.