MS. HOMICIDE on Lifetime Movie Network, Wednesday, 09/23rd @ 11PM
Especially as of late, the image media depicts of people behind the badge in law enforcement in large metropolitan centers like New York City are people who are far from warm and fuzzy. Plus, historically, nearly 30 years ago there weren’t many females in the field – not to speak of detectives – and least of all Latinas. So when someone who enters the force is Latina, excels, goes up the ranks and has heart, no surprise that a production company finds validity to this story and wants it captured for mainstream, national television. Hence the journey of Irma Rivera, a highly skilled and now, retired detective shares some of the high-profile cases that defined her career mentoring the next generation of Latinas – a niece currently in law school at Harvard.
But on Wednesday, September 23rd, in this one-hour Lifetime Movie Network pilot episode, Ms. Homicide, this proud Auntie – “Tia,” a known compassionate soul in her field, turns sage adding a whole other layer as she imparts essential information to her niece that not everything is black and white when interpreting the law, because when you deal with human lives – victims and perpetrators alike, there’s always grey line matter.
How did your cultural background first impact your entry into the NYC police force?
I am from the Projects of Manhattan’s Lower East Side of poor, Puerto Rican-born parents. My parents had four kids – three brothers and myself – and my father was previously married to an Irish woman and my mother raised three more kids. Everybody in the neighborhood was mixed and I had friends who ranged from Chinese-Puerto Rican to Polish. The first time I noticed that people were separate from one another was when I joined the police department and was stationed in Harlem and there was one group on the west side who were black and Puerto Ricans were on the East in Spanish Harlem. I was the first female Hispanic in my precinct. But it was good because I was Puerto Rican and I spoke Spanish. When I first started working there I also felt sorry for the Latino community, so I would give them more breaks or when it came to issuing summons.
Tell me about your professional career and what launched it?
I always wanted to be a police officer since I was a child and entered at 20. Early on in my first precinct I caught a serial robber at-large in the borough of the Bronx. This act launched my career and they kept me in the Robbery Identification unit in a detective capacity as a plainclothes cop. I stayed for a few years in Spanish Harlem and there was a serial rapist hitting a lot of elderly ladies and killing one of them. The Sex Crimes Unit came in and worked out of our office.
My partner from the Bronx apprehension, Ron Alvarez was still working with me. My Lieutenant appreciated my work and asked me if I was interested in the Sex Crimes Unit and entrusted me with first degree child abuse cases of children up to 14 years of age, as well as sexual abuse and assault cases. Several years later he asked if I wanted to join the Unit and my first big case was the Joel Steinberg case. This was a high profile case in 1987 of an adopted child with head trauma who ultimately died. From there I became a gold shield – a full-fledged third-grade detective and then became a second-grade detective. Ultimately they created a separate division devoted to child abuse and they placed me there. I then went to the Homicide Unit because they needed a female. In 2007 I retired after nearly 27 years on the force. I now have a private investigation company, The Locators Enterprise that does due diligence and seek out parents who have abandoned their children into the foster care system to determine whether they can be placed for permanent adoption. In my 20th year I was promoted to Detective First grade. When many people normally leave 20 years into the force I stayed on nearly 27 years. Despite neck injuries endured on the force, I still stayed on board.
Tell me how this TV pilot opportunity for Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) arose?
I get a lot of calls from production companies seeking female homicide detectives, but I never wanted the exposure. Richard Price wrote two books in which I was characterized in two fiction books, Lush Life and The Whites. However, Kevin Kaufman, owner of the Kaufman Studios in Queens approached me several times to see if I would do a show with him. After knowing him for a few years and trusting him, I gave in. But my only request was to include my partners and team members because all my successes as a police officer and detective were never done alone, but as a team effort. I always felt that it was never solely about me – that it always involved others and the production company agreed. Plus another incentive was that Rick Terrelli was a detective who worked with me and he is an Assistant Producer for Kevin’s production at Kaufman Films.
Describe this pilot episode and what occurs?
I am begin interviewed about different cases I was involved over my career as a detective. It makes people aware of behind-the-scenes activites involved in high-profile media investigations that we were involved in NYC that actually changed people’s mindsets about certain crimes, like child abuse and domestic violence. For example, the Joel Steinberg case, which centers on a lawyer living in an affluent neighborhood, was found guilty of child abuse when many people assumed that child abuse only happened in low-income neighborhoods. There was another case with Detective Piccione who questioned two coroner’s reports of a woman’s suicide when his gut feelings sided with the husband who contested this when he said, “My wife would have never killed herself.” And because he stuck to his instincts he was able to uncover a homicide.
What’s your $0.10 worth of advice that you would share with someone in regard to holding out for the right project?
I don’t like things that are fake. I like things that are real. The most important thing to me is to be portrayed authentically. I didn’t want it to be solely about me and not include others I worked with. I don’t want to be portrayed in a glorified way. I want to be portrayed about the work. The work speaks for itself, as well as my work ethics. I don’t need a lot of money. If you come from a poor background this shapes you. When I was a police officer they used to make fun of me because I came from the Projects. A lot of us from the Projects came out well in life and we are great contributing members of society. I know a lot of people who came from the Projects and were from really good families.
What surprised you most or what did you learn about yourself by being part of this experience?
When I tell this story I see that I have more confidence as I have gotten older. But I notice that even rehashing some of these stories reopens wounds. Many of us in law enforcement suffer from PTSD. When I was in the Sex Crimes Division, I remember the first photo of an underage female being forced to engage in oral sex on an adult male and that image never left me. Or telling a family member that their loved one was dead. I was often called, because I was a woman, to be the one to notify the family. So many of these stories and feelings came back. Unfortunately for a lot of families I am a bad memory. I was the one who locked up family members for sex abuse or the one who came to your door and told you that your daughter was dead. It was never easy.
When you first started and rose in the ranks, how was it being a Latina of color surrounded by a predominantly white, male police force?
It never bothered me because I was raised in a very diverse neighborhood. Sure, when I was in training they called me, “Taco.” Would they drop racial or ethnic jokes? Yes, but I never took it personally and I gave it right back to them. When they were nasty about it, then I would go on the attack. I was a bit of a tomboy and feel I still I am. I liked guys and got along with them. I get along with men better than women. A lot of them were like my brothers. They would come to me for advice and share a lot of personal stuff and I took on the role of their big sister.
MS. HOMICIDE (60 minutes)
Lifetime Movie Network
Wednesday, 09/23rd @ 11PM
TIO LOUIE/Louis E. Perego Moreno
Founder & Executive Producer of PRIME LATINO MEDIA, the largest network of Latino multimedia-makers and actors on the East Coast that hosts the PRIME LATINO MEDIA Salón, metro-New York's only monthly network gathering in which over 60 narrative & documentary filmmakers, programmers, casting agents, TV & digital media producers and actors have been interviewed. An interactive content producer and educator who for the past 34 years has owned Skyline Features, a bilingual (English and Spanish-language) multimedia and educational production company developing documentaries, television programming and advertising commercials featuring Latinos, Blacks, Women, Urban Youth and LGBT. Created a non-profit video training program with 1,500 Latino and Black Youth that over the course of ten years produced 70 documentary shorts on social, public and mental health issues.
FACEBOOK Group: Prime Latino Media
Vimeo: Prime Latino Media