Land O’ Lakes resident Lawrence Hoffman wants people to understand that cops are “just like everybody else.”
Hoffman, a retired New York Police Department detective, recently released the book “Turning Blue: A Life Beneath the Shield.”
The title reflects the progression that happens in the life of a police officer, Hoffman said.
“It’s just like if you become a doctor, and you get a stethoscope and a jacket, does that make you a doctor? Not really,” he said. “It’s a process, and I call it ‘turning blue,’ where you learn through your experiences.”
After 20 years on the force, Hoffman retired in 2004, and started writing about his vast experiences.
“It took me a good 12 years to write,” he said. “It didn’t start out as a book; it just kind of morphed into it.”
“I wanted to let people know that there’s a life beneath the shield. The book is not really about me, although it is.
“I didn’t think that my life was so great that people needed to know about me. I used what I knew—what God gave me—which was my life,” he said.
Hoffman grew up as a fun-loving, middle-class kid from Long Island. His infatuation with being in a uniform and being a part of an organization gravitated him toward work for the NYPD.
“I just thought how amazing that job must be; that’s really what I was fascinated with,” he said.
Patrolling the New York streets as a young officer was a culture shock, especially with the crack epidemic of the 1980s, Hoffman said.
“When I became a cop, I was thrown into this totally different world,” he said. ”I was working in Brooklyn back in the ‘80s when crack was so prevalent, and I felt a lot of resentment toward me for no reason, other than that I wore a uniform; that kind of bothered me.”
The resentment he felt was one reason Hoffman decided to write the book. He wanted to help readers understand the person behind the uniform.
“People form either their own opinion or they form opinions from friends who’ve had experiences with the police,” Hoffman said. “I wanted to show that there’s a different side. Underneath the uniform, we’re all pretty much the same. We all go through loss, we cry, we bleed. …I wanted to put a face to the uniform.”
In the book, Hoffman details several of his experiences, including his very first day on the job as a 24-year-old rookie officer.
“I wanted you to know what it’s like the first day you actually go on a foot post,” the retired detective said. “What is it like being a cop to get a four-block post and …you’re responsible for anything that happens in those four blocks. Anybody that lives there, walks there, drives through there, I’m responsible for, for eight hours. I have to protect and care for those people, and it’s a lot of responsibility,” he said.
“I found myself just standing there, like, ‘What do I do?’ Then the training starts to kick in,” Hoffman said.
In “Turning Blue,” he recollects his first citation, his first arrest, a deadly shootout and what’s it like to cope with death— of both civilians and fellow officers.
“It’s not all running and gunning. I wanted people to know a realistic view of what being a cop is like,” Hoffman said, noting that 90 percent of police work is calm and reactive, while the other 10 percent is chaotic.
“This book is not, ‘Look at me, look at how great of a cop I am.’ It’s actually not that at all,” Hoffman explained. “I put a little history in the book, so you learn. But, I wrote it as if you were there standing next to me. I want you to see what I saw, feel what I felt and smell what I smelt.”
That includes bringing readers into the events of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
“That was a horrific day, and I try to describe it as best as I could,” he said. “The smell was…I couldn’t compare it to anything. I just imagine that’s what the devil’s breath must smell like, which is what I named that chapter.”
After two decades of police work, Hoffman knew when it was time to retire while he was working a major drug case in the Dominican Republic.
“I remember sitting in an interview… and my mind was wandering,” he said. “I went home and looked at myself in the mirror, and got a good look at my face, and I could see the lines, my hair was getting gray… and thought, ‘It’s time; I’m ready to go.’ I had enough.”
If he could do it all over again, Hoffman said he’d still pursue law enforcement, but probably would have tried to work for the federal government, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“I loved the job, but I think maybe working with the feds would be very interesting,” he said, noting they get to travel abroad and work on enthralling cases.
“I miss the clowns, but not the circus. I was very fortunate to work with some of the greatest detectives and cops,” Hoffman said.
He noted the dynamics of being a cop in 2016 is vastly different than when he was working in the ’80s and ’90s.
“Nowadays, with everybody having a phone and a camera…I find it’s very difficult for officers,” he said. “They have to be very careful what they do, because people will take a clip and cut it down, and you’ve got 30 seconds of a clip — they get judged by that.”
For those considering a career in law enforcement, Hoffman has a piece of advice.
“If you find one gun, look for two. If you find two guns, you look for three,” he said.
Lawrence Hoffman worked for the New York Police Department from 1984 to 2004. After retiring, he moved to Land O’ Lakes with his wife, Jeanette. He now works in the public safety field, and is also pursuing his dreams of being an actor. He’s already been featured in several feature films and television shows such as Law and Order, Life on Mars, A Beautiful Mind and The Bounty Hunter.
Published April 13, 2016