Meet Justin Pierce Lawler, a big-city transplant feeling right at home with both the PSPD and the city’s LGBTQ+ community

In this month’s Profiles, we introduce you to a Palm Springs Police Department officer who gives us his take on where to eat and what to see, how to meet people, and what might be missing here.
PSPD Officer Justin Pierce Lawler hanging out in his office — a police cruiser — during one of his shifts.

Palm Springs Profiles is our ongoing series designed to help you get to know the people who live, work, and play in our city, helping to make it “like no place else.”

Today we’re pleased to introduce you to one of the many police officers who patrol the streets here. He gives us his take on the food scene, offers advice on how best to meet people when you’re new, and fills us in on how he arrived in Palm Springs from Chicago.

Want to meet dozens of others who make our city special? Read all our past Profiles here.

Name: Justin Pierce Lawler (AKA Pierce Law)

Arrival date: June 24, 2022.

Residence: Cathedral City

Personal details: Justin is 33 and lives with a roommate who is one of his close friends from Chicago, Thomas, who is also a drag performer by the name of Taylor Vaughn. “I have four dogs: Remmington, a Great Dane Poodle; Steele, a Great Dane Belgian Malinois; Elish, a Chihuahua Yorkie mix; and Grogu, an Italian Greyhound.”

Work details: Police officer with the Palm Springs Police Department.

What’s your story? Years ago I lived in LA and would visit Palm Springs. I relocated to Chicago and joined the Chicago Police Department and had a plan for some day relocating back to Southern California.

In March of 2020 I responded to a call of a house fire and my work partner and myself got stabbed by the suspect that started the fire. I was able to disarm her by hand and detain her in handcuffs. I then saved my partner’s life and the suspect’s life by carrying them out of the burning building. I unfortunately got an infection from the wound that turned into a blood disorder and my joints don’t work well in the cold as a result. 

On the bright side I was able to jumpstart my process to move back to Southern California. I remember my time spent in Palm Springs and enjoyed it and decided to laterally transfer to the Palm Springs Police Department.

Lawler (far right) was on hand along with PSPD Chief Andy Mills (center) earlier this year at a community forum held in The Arenas District.

What keeps you here? I had the opportunity to make a huge impact with the community and police department. I know there was a disconnect between the LGBTQ+ community and policing. Thankfully I am part of both and have been able to help with positive change, education, and being a positive role model. Police Chief Andy Mills, (his wife) Cathy Mills, and Lt. Gustavo Araiza have been huge support systems for that change. 

I am also in the process of surrogacy to be a single father. I believe Palm Springs would be an amazing place to raise a kid. I do not have family here but many of my friends and coworkers here have been very supportive of this journey. Also, the warm weather year-round helps!

Favorite time of year: In Palm Springs, it would be the winter time. I am a very social person and love when the city is at its most vibrant.

Beat the heat tips: I keep my AC at 72 for my home. Thankfully I also get to enjoy some AC in my office (squad car) between calls for service and writing reports. Let’s not forget all the pool events and pool parties the city has to offer, too.

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Favorite local event: I love the street fairs that Palm Springs has to offer. The Big Gay BBQ was the first of its kind that we had this year. I had the honor of working the event as a patrol officer and was able to meet a ton of amazing and diverse people. Otherwise I love that our city has a street fair every Thursday (VillageFest), where I often work. I’m able to meet new people every week, help tourists with suggestions, and help keep the citizens safe.

Food recommendations: My favorite Mexican fusion restaurant is Tac/Quila. They have an amazing margarita flight and ahi tuna tacos. My favorite place to get chicken would have to be Chicken Ranch, the chicken Banh Mi sandwich and their mac and cheese is definitely on par. My favorite burger joint is Blackbook on Arenas — the Juicy Lucifer is to die for. My favorite pizza in the city kind of surprised me: Hunters has the best pizza that I have had in the city. Other than that I am a pretty well-rounded cook myself.

People meeting tips: The best way to meet people is by going out and being social. I enjoy going to Chill Bar for the refreshing atmosphere and dance floor on the weekends. Hunters has a happy hour every Friday that is a staple for meeting new friends. Joining the local gyms is also a great way to meet new people. 

When meeting people at these events, I found it very easy to get invited to pool events, hiking, going to theaters, and dinner socials. Also every month the LGBTQ Center holds a social event and the Trans Center hold a trans and non-binary event. I have had the pleasure to meet a vast amount of people at both.

Must-see for visitors: I take them to Tac/Quila for the food and people watching. I also show them the Palm Springs Art Museum, VillageFest, and like to visit Whitewater hiking trails, which are not too far away.

What’s missing? One thing that I miss about big city life is that there is so much to do all the time. I also miss the rain and thunderstorms. 

I feel like the city is missing a huge opportunity to connect with first responders. My experience in Chicago is that there were more opportunities organized with the department for community outreach and representation. When I first moved to Palm Springs, I was able to attend a couple coffee with a cop events, but that seems to have stopped.

Guilty pleasure: Stopping at Tea Be Honest in Cathedral City for Boba Tea.

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