If you’d told Bangor Police Department Sgt. Tim Cotton back when he was a new member of the force in the late 1980s that, 30 years later, he’d be at a local bookstore, signing copies of his debut book for a long line of people stretched down the street, he’d probably have looked at you a little funny.
“Every cop jokes about writing a book. We all say it. But it’s about five years into the job that you start to realize, ‘Hey, I’m really seeing something unique here,’” said Cotton. “I’ve always written, but I never expected this to happen. Even after I started writing, it still surprises me that people really get excited about it. It’s a very strange position to be in.”
Cotton’s musings on life, the law and everything in between have been collected in a new book, “The Detective in the Dooryard: Reflections of a Maine Cop,” published earlier this month by Down East Books. In it, Cotton presents himself as a wry, plain-spoken Mainer who has spent the past several decades getting an intimate look at how Maine people — and Bangorians, in particular — live their lives. Cotton says he’s inspired by other great humor writers, like Dave Barry and Erma Bombeck.
Cotton, who for decades was an investigator before he was promoted to sergeant in 2014, has grown accustomed to the limelight in the past few years. Since he took over social media for the Bangor PD, he’s grown its Facebook page from a little-used account to a beloved source of humor and insight, with more than 300,000 followers from all over the world, thanks to his near-daily posts about life on the force, and life in general.
Good, bad or indifferent, Cotton tells stories from a long career in law enforcement, thoughtfully and with great empathy for whomever it might be that he encounters on a given day. And after more than five years of writing for Facebook, publishers eventually came calling.
“I had some folks from various publishing houses reach out to me, telling me I should consider doing a book,” said Cotton. “It took a couple of years to decide that I was ready to do it. I always kept it in the back of my mind, though.”
Cotton went through his hundreds of Facebook posts over the years, and though he worked with the BPD’s front desk representative Melody Blake to proofread them and tweak a few things here and there, most of the essays in the book are as they were presented when they were originally written.
“I told everybody, I write the way I write. I don’t want to change my voice,” said Cotton. “And luckily, they all agreed. I think that’s why people read my stuff, because it’s in my voice.”
Though nearly every tale in the book is funny, there are also touching and sad stories about the victims Cotton and his colleagues have helped, the criminals they have tried to rehabilitate and the ones who didn’t end up finding redemption or a fresh start. Alongside tales of police work, there also are anecdotes about Cotton’s own life, and about Maine — our beautiful summers and rugged winters, our accents, our food, our idiosyncratic ways and how we outsmart people from away without them ever knowing it.
The book also includes the origin story for Cotton’s partner in certainly not crime: the Duck of Justice, a taxidermied wooden duck that Cotton got his hands on years ago. Back then, the duck was merely an oddity on display in his office to help grease the conversation wheels. In 2014, however, it became a kind of mascot for the BPD, and is now featured on T-shirts and in photos with famous faces like Stephen King and Mike Rowe, the latter of whom featured Cotton’s new book in a heartfelt video on his Facebook page.
For Cotton, the duck is more than just a quirky thing to promote the BPD — it’s also a symbol of how anybody can be redeemed, which is why he thinks people love it so much.
“I think it represents renewal. If an old stuffed duck can be dug out of the trash can and rejuvenated, anybody can,” said Cotton. “And I always tell people, ‘You show me another department where people come from Australia to take a picture with a dead duck, and I’ll buy you lunch. I haven’t had to buy anybody lunch yet.”
“The Detective in the Dooryard: Reflections of a Maine Cop” will be available wherever books are sold. The current printing is sold out, but the next printing will be ready to ship out by the end of July.