April 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in the May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

It was February 2002 and Mark Langan and his partner had just shot a man dead in South Omaha. The convicted drug dealer was known to be violent and shot at Langan first, but the longtime Omaha narcotics cop was still badly shaken. Not only had he killed a man, but he was being read his Miranda Rights and would soon be facing a grand jury to defend his actions. Then, amid this tumult, he did what he says “officers are told never to do.”

“I called my wife,” he says. “I knew she’d be seeing it all on the news. I knew she’d be worried. I had to call her. I had to tell her everything would be alright.”

In Busting Bad Guys, Langan tells this gripping story with all the taut verve you expect from quality true crime. But, then, Langan, arguably with more literary finesse that one might expect from a career drug cop in Omaha, tells the rest of the story. Four years after, he and his partner were contacted by the dead man’s daughter. She wanted closure. She wanted to meet them. Langan and his partner agreed. The scene that followed at a local restaurant reads as poignant as
fine fiction.

You might know Langan now as the guy at the Nebraska Humane Society tasked with protecting the city’s animals from abuse. For 10 years, he’s been the enforcement arm for the Society—the guy who, with his close ties with law enforcement and his passion for animals, puts teeth in the Society’s mission and the city’s anti-cruelty statutes.

But, before that, Langan spent 26 years as an Omaha police officer. Sixteen of the those years were in vice and narcotics, the two areas of crime fighting that, with the homicide department, generate some of the wildest and gut-wrenching cop stories there are. “The joke was that I went from busting meth labs to chasing black labs,” Langan says.

Just as interesting as the tales of mayhem are Langan’s stories of his personal life. If you know the man only peripherally, he can come off as the stereotypical cop: Hard, jaded, forceful, and unusually self-assured. In the book, and in person, you come to know a different Langan, one who his high school counselor suggested was far too sensitive and introspective to go into law enforcement.

Langan is a contradiction. “Sometimes it’s like you’re several different people.” He’s the tough guy when tough is necessary. “There are some people I was thrilled to help send off to prison.” He became more himself, he says, when he was consoling a victim or working with non-violent criminals struggling with drug addictions.“It can be so rewarding hearing from somebody years later who got their life back together,” he says.

Then, unlike many longtime cops, he was, and remains to be, your average family guy with his wife and two children.

“My kids didn’t know what I was doing,” he says. “I didn’t want to bring it home to them. In a way, this book is for them. It’s a way to tell them what I was doing all
those years.”

“Mark didn’t bring his work home—he wasn’t that stereotype of the bad cop husband you see on television,” says his wife, Annette. “He really was wonderful even through the toughest times.”

The only impact she says she saw: He was a clean freak, especially after he was involved in busting a meth house in which children were neglected and abused.

“That’s where we’d see it,” she says. “I think he dealt with what he had seen by coming home and making everything right.”

In the year since the books release, Langan has been an aggressive promoter, having done 80 signings throughout the city. He has sold more than 7,000 copies so far and plans to continue the breakneck promotional tour.

Then, when things calm down, he may try his hand at another book.

“I’m not sure what it would be,” he says. “But the response to the book has been amazing and it’s been such a wonderful experience. I enjoy writing, I enjoy telling stories. I’d hate to think this book is it.”

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