Get Lit: Q&A with Sgt. Brian Foster of the Houston Police Department
During his 34-year career in law enforcement—23 of those as a Detective/Sergeant with the Houston Police Department Homicide Division-- Sgt. Brian Foster always kept both his notebook and his ears open.
But not just to record the confessions, bizarre incidents, statements, stories, and lies that were told him by both cops and crooks. Like any good sociologist of the streets, he was collecting material, and many of the best tales featuring junkies, winos, burglars, wife-beaters, fellow officers, and lawyers appeared in his self-published book Homicidal Humor.
It was written under his pseudonym of “Von Auld Kopp” (read it aloud) to understandably avoid certain, uh, repercussions. A disclaimer about stories being embellished, secondhand, or outright “fiction” was also (wink, wink) included.
Now on the verge of retirement, Foster has penned a sequel, More Homidical Humor, and this time under his own name. Houstoned trolled through its pages and took a tour of the seamy (and often stinky) underbelly of Houston crime and criminals, and spoke with Foster about his new beat of the printed page.
Houstoned: What made you decide to write a second book and use your real name?
Foster: Every cop out there has stories like these. I just wrote some of them down. I wrote the first book under a pseudonym because I felt I might get hassled by HPD’s upper management. I put my first disclaimer together with the help of a civil rights attorney friend that was also once a patrolman in this city.
He said that the powers that be would stay clear of infringing on my First Amendment Rights, even if they didn’t like what I wrote. The second one is a little-more light-hearted. Many of the incidents written about are verbatim as they occurred. Others include the blending of several incidents into one. In this lawsuit prone society, I want to dodge liability.
Houstoned: Did you get any backlash from the first book?
Foster: I have only had two individuals that sent me e-mails that contained venom, and I don’t think either of them had read anything I’ve ever written. There are cop haters out there that are lucid as any other wild-eyed bigot. They stew in their own juices and are to be pitied. But should either of those folks want to pull up my Web site and order either book, I’d be glad to take their money.
Houstoned: The book lends an insight to what “really” happens on the street as opposed to what we see in TV and movies. What are the top three things you’ve seen in media portrayals of police work that would NEVER happen in real life?
Foster: The TV and movie storylines never show investigators coming up against a dead end. You don’t win them all. In fact, in one quarter to one third of all homicide investigations, the crooks literally get away with murder. Hollywood can run tests on evidence in 20 seconds that in reality take 24 to 48 hours to complete. Silencers appear on shotguns and revolvers, where in the real world they won’t work. Real investigations involve knocking on doors, talking with folks, handing out business cards, and wearing out shoe leather. In some cases you make your own luck, and in others you could not buy a break at any price.
Houstoned: You write with a real dark sense of humor. You talk about developing it as a defense mechanism.
Foster: Everyone in a high-pressure vocation has to look for an outlet because of what they are exposed to daily. Emergency room doctors and nurses, paramedics, and cops can’t internalize what they see or they will be driven over the edge. There are some in each of those vocations that can’t separate themselves from their work, and as such they visibly age very rapidly. That, or they may turn to booze or pills as a release.
That body on the floor is no longer little Johnny Doe, but is a piece of evidence like a chair or fired cartridge casing. I was taught by an old cop early in my career that idiots were put here for my entertainment and that I should look for humor everywhere I went. If a cop takes his case investigations personally, he will risk early heart attacks or going to prison on charges of violating of some suspect’s civil rights.
Houstoned: In your years of HPD work, what area of town can almost guarantee the most bizarre calls?
Foster: There is no one area of Houston where people act stranger than others. Northeast and southeast parts of town for many years have had the highest numbers of homicides, but the River Oakeys can act every bit as trashy as the Ward Rats. Whenever you think you’ve seen it all, then someone will jump up and do something that will make you stare open mouthed in disbelief. Mark Twain said “The human animal is the only one that blushes—or needs to,” and he was right.
Houstoned: What is the one thing about HPD procedures that has changed the most since you started on the force?
Foster: The major change other than there now being a lot more troops on the street and far better equipment is that the administration has attempted to remove discretion from the street officer as much as possible. Rules manuals now have rules manuals that instruct you how to read them.
Houstoned: And finally, will there be a third volume in the works?
Foster: I feel certain that a third book will be out in another couple of years. Other officers are now passing on their favorite war stories along to me. When you write a book, you have to do so knowing that you are going to have to market it for a couple of years. The books will not sell themselves. I’ve been told you need to put in several years of marketing work if you want to be an overnight success as an author.
-- Bob Ruggiero
To read an excerpt from More Homicidal Humor or order the book, visit www.homicidalhumor.com