Think of Randy Sutton as the choirboy turned cop. Sutton is a former Princeton Borough police officer, now with the Las Vegas PD, who has made a name for himself not only as a cop but also as a television personality (acting in the HBO movie “Casino” and “Fools Rush In” and appearing on television’s “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted”). Now he has a book, “True Blue,” real stories of life changing incidents experienced by police officers, told by the cops themselves.
Sutton is back in town promoting the book, the proceeds of which will go to the survivors of New York and Port Authority police killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11. He appears at Barnes and Noble on Thursday, February 26, at 7 p.m.
“The Choirboy Cop.” Not such a bad title, really, and literally true. If you hung out in Princeton back in the late 1970s, and made it a point to know what was happening around town, you would have heard of Randy Sutton. One of two sons of a couple who both worked as court reporters, Sutton grew up near the Princeton Shopping Center. Armed with a good singing voice, he appeared at McCarter at age 6 as one of the children in “The King and I.” He spent sixth and seventh grades at the Boychoir School before entering Princeton High.
Though he continued to sing and perform in Princeton area musical theater (PJ&B and Washington Crossing), he was lured into a police career, drawn in partly by “the great stories mom and dad used to tell at the dinner table.” In his senior year in high school he became a cadet — essentially an intern — with the Borough police department. He was soon the youngest cop on the force, hired at the age of 19 (“my mother had to buy bullets for me,” he says, “I was too young”).
The choirboy turned cop brought what he now calls a “youthful exuberance” to his work. Back in the late 1970s the police blotter was filled with accounts of arrests by Officer Sutton. Often the account would begin with a routine traffic stop — a headlight out — and then would turn into another matter when Officer Sutton happened to observe a small plastic bag sticking out from under the passenger seat.
Sutton was involved in one of Princeton’s more celebrated drug cases. A resident — whose name many of you would recognize if I repeated it here but I won’t because the person has already paid his dues — called police when he arrived home and suspected that his house had been burgled. Sutton arrived and offered to look around for clues or perhaps for the burglar himself, who might still have been on the premises. Like any thorough cop, Sutton began in the attic and planned to work his way down. But in the attic he discovered a greenhouse of marijuana plants. “I still laugh at that one,” he says now, in a phone interview enroute from Newark Airport. “It was the biggest drug bust I ever made in Princeton.”
But in a town where profiling is perhaps the greatest injustice a cop can commit, the blind enforcement of laws may be the second greatest injustice. “It made me very unpopular,” says Sutton. “I was arresting my high school classmates — and their parents.” Though his Princeton police superiors and politicians never put any pressure on him to be less aggressive, he still longed for bigger challenges, and after 10 years (halfway toward his retirement), Sutton started anew in Las Vegas.
He was confronted with all the action he wanted, and he landed the acting roles. Even as he promotes “True Blue,” he has his own autobiography in the editing stages — it’s called “Routine Patrol” and will include stories from his days in Princeton. Plus he and his editor have sold a screenplay, a gangster movie. He is working on a novel, titled “Renewal.” There is talk of a television series for “True Blue.” And Sutton the singer has a CD of swing and big band era standards and still performs on occasion at Las Vegas casinos and night clubs.
In some ways, he says now, he would have had a better career if he had started in Las Vegas, where he could expend that youthful exuberance, and then return to a small town like Princeton. “I went in wanting to change the world,” he says. “For me everything was black and white. But you gain experience and a little wisdom as you get older and I don’t see it that way anymore.”
Does that mean he would look the other way if he stumbled across a crop of marijuana in the attic of some community leader? “No,” Sutton says. “I would not do any less enforcement. But I would show compassion where compassion is necessary. When I was a young cop an arrest was just a trophy. I look back at it now and cringe.”
Now, says Sutton, he views an arrest as chance to “help someone make a change in their life.” He says he runs into people today in Las Vegas who remind him of a time when they were arrested by Sutton, and they thank him for his intervention. “There are lots of times when our actions as police officers impact someone — even when you are arresting someone you can still treat them with dignity,” says Sutton, the cop, sounding every bit like the choirboy.