Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tío Louie Reporta: Irma Rivera from Kaufman Films and LMN's "Ms. Homicide"

HOLA is proud to present Tío Louie Reporta, where filmmaker and Executive Producer of Prime Latino Media, Louis Perego Moreno (also known as Tío Louie) interviews actors and multimedia-makers in the business.

In this edition, he interviews Irma Rivera, retired NYPD detective and star of the new reality crime investigation pilot "Ms. Homicide" (produced by Kaufman Films and airing on Lifetime Movie Network).

In 1989, I used to get my hair cut in a hairstyling salon in the Lower East Side frequented by the likes of Harry Connick, Jr. and a female Puerto Rican detective, Irma Rivera. I had difficulty separating the effusive and generous lady from the stereotype of a law enforcement agent. But fast forward 26 years later and she is still known most for being a compassionate professional and member of the community, so much so that Kaufman Films’s production company in Queens has produced a project on her which is airing on Lifetime Movie Network a one-hour movie premiering on Wednesday night, September 23, 2015 as a pilot episode with the hopes of turning it into a series.

Plus the most poignant part of reliving some of the most high-profile criminal cases in NYC in this program is that they were under Irma Rivera’s charge and that of her colleagues. However, she is now taking it to the next level and doling out pearls of wisdom to a niece who is the next generation making our Latino community proud as she is in the throes of Harvard Law School, while pointing out dutifully as “Tía Retired Detective” that everything in law is not black and white, especially when it deals with human lives.

Where are you roots and how do you self-identify? I was born in the Lower East Side in housing projects on East 10th Street and I was born at home. I have been independent since the day I was born. My mom was [then] in her 40s and she is now 89. My family was on welfare and we lived on food stamps. We got government cheese and sometimes there was no food. My mother was from the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico and was illiterate. Her mother committed suicide when she was five leaving five kids behind. My dad is from Santurce, Puerto Rico. There were three brothers from my mom and dad and my father had a prior marriage to an Irish woman and my mother raised the three kids also. I grew up in the Lower East Side and everybody was mixed. I had friends who were Chinese-Puerto Rican, Polish and Costa Rican. 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 the Puerto Ricans on the East in Spanish Harlem. I was the first female Hispanic in my precinct.

Tell me about your professional career. I started off at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, but by the time I was 20 I joined the police department. I wanted to be a police officer since a child. I had a very strict father because I had a sister who was a heroin addict and according to him lightning was not going to strike twice in this family. When I was in first grade, I met a policewoman and thought I want to be just like her. As a cop, I was the only Puerto Rican female in the precinct. On my first night I made a good apprehension of someone who had made a robbery. I spotted three guys on the street and they struck me as familiar from a case I was told about earlier. I pride myself on being an active cop and being sharp. Many times the older cops kept the women aside and that was not my interest. Eventually I was placed on Street Narcotics Enforcement in the precinct capacity in Spanish Harlem and there were a lot of street busts. From there they recruited me to go into the Robbery Unit for 30 days in detective capacity in plainclothes. There was a guy, Raymond Mercado, doing a lot of armed robberies. I got his brother locally and started speaking to him and found out approximately where he lived in the Bronx. I asked my sergeant for overtime and to let my partner join. I was driving with my partner and I spotted Raymond Mercado turning the corner and I nabbed him. In plainclothes when I drew my gun I was almost shot by another cop who arrived on the scene assuming that I was the suspect’s wife. I brought him back to Spanish Harlem to book for all the commercial robberies. As a matter of fact, Raymond’s family was happy that a Latina cop busted him because they were convinced "Police Officer Irma Rivera" would not hurt him. This act launched my career and they kept me in the Robbery Identification Unit in a detective capacity as a plainclothes cop. I then worked in the Sex Crimes Unit that also oversaw first-degree child abuse cases of children up to 14 years of age, as well as sexual abuse and assault cases. That’s where I got my first big case–  the Joel Steinberg case in 1987 of an adopted child who died of head trauma. In my 20th year I  was promoted to Detective First Grade and retired after nearly 27 years in the force.

What is this one-hour program on Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) about? My niece, Lelia, is like my daughter. I have been taking care of her since she was six months old. Her mother was a single mother due to [Lelia's] father dying. She is currently at Harvard Law and is very book smart, but she is not street smart. So the story being told in this pilot is how a retired detective/aunt empowers her niece to be more street smart when it comes to people and that everything is not black and white. I want her to know that life cannot be determined solely by classic textbook examples. I also want her to be compassionate when examining cases, interpreting the law and its impact on people in order to see shades of grey when processing and synthesizing cases.

What’s your future now– actor, producer or behind-the-scenes advisor to productions? What would you like to do? Behind-the-scenes in regard to law enforcement. Acting, I am not sure if I do it well.

In spite of the bad rap that law enforcement has been getting in the last year about its treatment of people and specific ethnic and racial communities, your life in that professional field is defined by compassion for people, in front of the badge and behind the badge. What are your $0.10 worth of advice [Tío Louie's version of "give me your opinion, or your 'two cents'" updated for inflation] to producers and actors on and how they portray law enforcement? They need to speak to people who do the real job. They need to bring in technical advisors. Sometimes they exaggerate and depict situations that would never happen in real life– on either side of the formula. Unfortunately, this sells and the audience eats it up. I liked the depictions in HBO’s "The Wire" and Fox's "Gotham" about how the community and law enforcement are portrayed. James Gordon, in "Gotham" [portrayed by Ben McKenzie], plays the lead character who is a detective that is compassionate. He cares about his victims and the perpetrators. Sometimes you have to exhibit compassion towards the alleged in order to get information from them to help with the case. The way it is portrayed in some media and entertainment now is negative towards the police and overly exaggerated. The majority of law enforcement that come to work everyday are the type who buy people food and get Christmas presents for kids, but you never hear about those stories. Because of these depictions young kids are not respecting police today. Usually these bad apples that surface for horrendous actions, no one wanted to work with as a partner or on their team. Very seldom in my career, did I ever experience bad apples to that degree. I was in a detective capacity for many years and they are different than police officers– they have to be compassionate because you are dealing with victims and their families who just endured a horrendous experience. My philosophy was that I would treat these people as if they were my mother or brother and how I would expect my family treated under these circumstances.

"Ms. Homicide" will air tonight, Wednesday, September 23, 2015 on the Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) at 11pm (it will have an encore presentation on Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 3am). For more information, click here and here

Louis E. Perego Moreno (Tío Louie)
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, New York metropolitan area'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. Produced 70 documentary shorts with 1,500 Latino and Black Youth. Producer/Director/Writer of documentary feature, Latina Confessions (2010) and airing on PBS nationally was co-producer on American Dreams Deferred (2012-2014).

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