Happening upon “The Detective in the Dooryard: Reflections of a Maine Cop” by Timothy Cotton is like discovering a nice little treasure chest. Open this delightful book and you will find a whole bunch of different gems that will enrich you.
Popular TV host Mike Rowe finds it “a very funny book.” He said he’d assumed that Cotton was “a dedicated cop who wrote amusing stories on the side,” but after reading the book, he said, “I’m now beginning to think he is a dedicated writer who arrests ne’er-do-wells in his spare time.”
Craig Johnson, the author whose books gave us Netflix’s acclaimed “Longmire” series, said, “To be a good police officer, you have to be a student of human nature, and when you add literary muscle and a razor-sharp wit—you get Timothy Cotton.
For the 57-year-old native Mainer who’s been a police officer for more than 30 years, overseeing the Bangor Police Department’s Facebook page happened to be included among the duties that came with a 2014 promotion he received to sergeant and public information officer.
“I didn’t know anything about social media so I examined what police departments around the country were doing on their Facebook pages,” he said. “Many were very well-produced, highly professional, and some were really fancy, but they just didn’t speak to me. I decided I wanted to take a very different approach.”
He asked the department chief if he could drastically change the tone by injecting humor into his writings about the police and their daily interactions with the good and not-so-good people they encounter. Do it your way, said the chief, as long as you steer clear of politics and religion.
The department’s Facebook following took off from 9,300 followers and just kept zooming. Today, more than 300,000 people in the United States and around the world—nearly 10 times the population of Bangor, Maine—follow what he, with his typical nimble wit, refers to as “the world’s most marginally famous Facebook page.”
“It’s not about me, and it’s not some soft-sell, I-love-the-police thing,” Cotton said. “I’ve tried to create the page by writing about people and their relationships to, or with, the police. It’s about interaction between cops and people and the funny things we see or do. I like to tell the story of the people we deal with more than us. People don’t know the backstory of the person we help or arrest. I like to do it with humor, but I also like to do it with kindness.”
Cotton has always been a vociferous reader of comedy, especially the words of Dave Barry, P.J. O’Rourke, and Art Buchwald. Many among his huge following say his writing reminds them of these comic favorites, as well as other great humorists such as Lewis Grizzard and Erma Bombeck. He’s been selected as Humor Writer of the Month by the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
“I’m a guy who likes to be somewhat sarcastic and have a good time,” Cotton said.
Does he ever!
His offbeat reporting about the police beat in this small Maine city is a delight; you so often find gems that are witty, insightful, inspirational, uplifting, and so fun to read. Cotton can make you laugh out loud. He can make you tear up. He can lift your mood. He can make you pause and think.
Here are a few typical samples of Cotton’s musings:
– “Officers were sent to a motel on outer Hammond Street … to take the report of a person breaking out the windows. This is not the type of tomfoolery that makes other inn dwellers feel relaxed when smoothing the sheets with their weary bones … A trio of revelers had consumed alcoholic beverages together for a substantial amount of time. The outcast went all kinds of crazy … The remaining members of the trio, formerly known as enjoying themselves, escaped the room to summon help. That’s when the suspect started taking names and smashing glass. Lashing out is sometimes a cry for help, and that’s where Bangor cops come in. The now-bleeding and still-inebriated suspect went to the lobby area where he broke another window. Handcrafted broken glass seems so much more ‘artsy.’ He then ran for the wood line where he attempted to hide in that pitiful way that people hide when drunk; we refer to it as ‘very poorly.’ He was taken to the emergency room during his victory lap to jail. Glass is sharp. He was not.”
– “A man in a red coat was clearly intoxicated and sleeping on a Rutland Street porch. The porch was not his to sleep on, and the homeowner wisely contacted us to arrange different accommodations. Our officer (a busy young lad) noted that the man smelled of spirits and staggered, as people sometimes do after drinking several too many. When the cop asked him where he was headed, the man said he would like a ride to his grandparents’ home in Eagle Lake. Eagle Lake is 155 miles to the north. Ain’t nobody got time for that. … He did not heed the clear and concise warnings to quiet down and the young officer had no choice but to change the venue by applying the stainless restraint devices that we seem to use far too often when a moral compass has been lubed—improperly—with alcohol.”
– “A couple of mobile sommeliers did the ‘sip ’n slip’ at Governor’s restaurant in Bangor. The ladies smelled the cork, popped the top, and didn’t stop (to pay) before they took the liquefied grapes on a road-trip down Broadway. Before they left, an employee inquired about them trying to take the wine outside to imbibe, and one of them asked her if she was going to try to stop them. Talk about the Grapes of Wrath—that was naughty! The ‘ladies’ were found in Old Town by one of their officers. They said the neon lights are bright on Broadway, but, on this day, the dim glow of thievery was overcome by the overpowering LEDs of justice.”
– “One of our officers was dispatched to go to Norfolk Street to try to locate a motor vehicle that was seen towing a person wearing skis. These are the kinds of complaints that our officers love to handle. We were hopeful to find the adventuresome duo in order to inquire about the best speeds, appropriate rope lengths, and to find out which wax holds up best when applied to skis being used on both hard-packed snow, icy surfaces, and asphalt. We are not saying that we would not have given them a good dressing-down. We are just saying that this is a crime that could call for a complete reenactment. … The officer could not find the skijoring souls as they skedaddled slickly, slipping silently into the snowy shadows. We were sad.”
These samples are from “Got Warrants” jottings he has posted on the Bangor Police Department’s Facebook page. Other reflections of his included in the book are from his personal Facebook page (@TimCottonWrites) which has more than 55,000 followers and is rapidly growing. And some stories are original writings he’s done just for the book. He also has a growing following on his Instagram page.
The Duck of Justice
Cotton said that much of what he writes is “borne from thoughts that come and go as I drive or ride, covering the miles between all the places I love to go.” One of the thoughts that came to him led to the Bangor Police Department’s adoption of an unusual mascot—a wood duck.
Years ago, he “rescued” a dilapidated taxidermy duck from a trash can in the District Attorney’s office and called it “The Duck of Truth.” He said its presence “broke the ice with more than one witness to a crime, as well as with a few victims and suspects. The simple joke was that ‘you cannot lie in front of the duck.’ It worked, and even when it didn’t, it gave me great pleasure to say it.”
He made the stuffed duck, lovingly refurbished by a taxidermist, his sidekick when he took over the department’s Facebook page. He slipped it into photos of officers and Bangor scenes. People couldn’t resist asking why a stuffed duck kept showing up in so many photos.
“I didn’t answer them,” Cotton said. “It made sense to keep it mysterious.”
That mysterious duck, renamed “The Duck of Justice,” became an internet star. It helped that web surfers looking for the Department of Justice or DOJ happened to also notice something about a duck at the Bangor police headquarters. People from every state in the United States and from Europe, Asia, and Australia have stopped by to have their picture taken with “The Duck of Justice”—thousands of them!
Its huge Facebook following includes Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO. Many thousands of Duck of Justice T-shirts have been sold, with all profits going to community causes. Cotton gifted his Duck of Justice, now a registered trademark, and all rights to it to the City of Bangor.
Runs in the Family
Being a cop runs in the Cotton family. His father was a police officer who became a minister following his retirement. His son is a Maine State Trooper. Cotton worked in a machine shop after graduating from high school; then, after studying at the New England School of Communications, was a popular radio show host in Bangor before joining its police department.
“Police work isn’t glamorous, but it’s important,” Cotton said. Follow his Facebook postings or read his book, and besides being wonderfully entertained you should also realize that the work police do is often mundane, frequently frustrating, sometimes very dangerous, and always essential for the safety of the people and the protection and property in a society that values the rule of law and enjoying liberty living in an orderly society.
Oh, in case you are wondering, as I did: why is the book titled “The Detective in the Dooryard” rather than “Doorway”? Because, Cotton explained to me, in Maine and other parts of New England, the area around the door that is most often used to enter is always called the dooryard, whether it be the front yard, the side yard, or the backyard.
If you’re at all like me, the one thing you won’t like about “The Detective in the Dooryard” is the ending. What you won’t like is that it ends. The best way to deal with this is to pick it up now and then and enjoy dipping into it again.
A writer and favorably reviewed novelist himself, Fred J. Eckert has been a member of Congress and twice served under President Ronald Reagan as a U.S. ambassador.