Detective Michael Silver sits in his office within the Pembroke Pines Police Department. There are five different computer monitors for him to use, depending on his task that day. Two for everyday use, three for undercover work. When the Special Victims Unit investigator is looking for child predators or locals uploading child pornography, he turns to a dark net computer.
"It's kind of like that old TV show, 'How to Catch a Predator,'" he explained. "That's what we do." When Silver's not in his office or on a case, he's visiting local elementary schools to educate students on internet safety.
Today, Silver's a confident detective living out his childhood dream.
"I always wanted to be a cop," Silver said with a smile. "It runs in the family. As a kid, I'd play cops and robbers with my brother. He'd be the robber and I'd be the cop." By the time he was 14, he joined a Police Explorers program in Davie.
Silver's been a police officer for 16 years and a member of the Pembroke Pines department for 15. He's also a special investigator for the South Florida Internet Crimes Against Children task force.
"I'm happy where I'm at," he said. "Never in my career have I gotten so much gratification."
But nine years ago, things weren't so easy.
"My whole life, I never identified as homosexual or gay. I never acted on any type of impulses. I went through a hard time and I'd come to work and my friends and work family saw there were issues going on," Silver said. "They helped me get support and eventually steered me to going to speak to somebody. Long story short, I did come out."
In 2008, Silver came out to his co-workers at the Pembroke Pines Police Department before anyone else in his life. "When I saw this positive reaction, it made me feel really good and I eventually came out to my family, which was a huge positive experience," he said. The officers celebrated at Georgie's Alibi in Wilton Manors.
But Silver wasn't the first in his department to identify as openly gay.
Capt. Al Xiques has been a part of the Pembroke Pines Police Department for 21 years. He's been captain for more than five years and he's been out since 2008.
"I got to the point that I had been a supervisor for years but I felt that in my organization, I could serve as a role model," Xiques said. "I came out at that time and thought it would help others and I believe it did make it easier for others like Mike [Silver] to say 'that's who I am and it doesn't matter.'"
Silver's office is obsessively clean compared to his peers' and smells nice, thanks to a beach-scented candle.
He's already had a pretty full day, including an oatmeal breakfast with his unit and working on a cold case where he caught a man in Texas who was trying to kidnap a young girl. In between, Silver and the rest of his unit skip their lunch break and go to the gym instead. Today was leg day.
On a shelf above his computer are three blue numbers, '628,' noting his ID number and a photo of him and Sgt. Jennifer Schmidt in a frame that says "friends forever."
Schmidt is also openly gay.
"I've been given an amazing opportunity to educate our community," Schmidt said. "These events have provided me the chance to show that we are all united."
Schmidt, Xiques and Silver frequently volunteer at SunServe — an LGBTQ nonprofit in Wilton Manors — as well as other gay pride events. Silver speaks regularly at the Pride Center in Fort Lauderdale. Later this month, Pembroke Pines Police officers will donate their time by marching in uniform at the annual Stonewall parade in Wilton Manors.
"I think being in law enforcement, we have a bad reputation — maybe from instances that happened years ago, before I was even alive," Silver said. "Maybe some of the older LGBT citizens remember those days and associate modern police with those days. I think it's important that we show all communities that we're here to protect everybody. It's important to get out there and show that we respect everybody including every group of minorities."
Xiques is grateful to work with a department that's so active and accepting of the LGBTQ community.
"Generally speaking, it's fair to say law enforcement is a traditional organization," he said. "Every department has its own culture. We've been blessed. The fact that we're part of the LGBTQ community is frankly a non-issue. We're here to do our job well and that's it. We've received nothing but support from our peers, our command staff, since the day we decided we were going to come out."
When Silver's not working a 10-hour shift or on-call, he's hanging out in his Fort Lauderdale home with his 3-year-old Weimaraner, Freya, teaching his two nieces how to fight alongside his brother "so no boys can mess with them," or enjoying bottomless mimosas at Louie Bossi's in Las Olas.
"I always believe everything happens for a reason," he said. "I regret living the majority of my life in fear, but I look back and say maybe If I did things differently I wouldn't be where I'm at today. I'm happy where I am today. I'm proud of my career and the agency that I work for. They've always supported me."
This has been reposted from Sun Sentinel.