Anita Van Buren

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Anita Van Buren
Law & Order character
Anita Van Buren.jpg
First appearance "Sweeps"
Last appearance "Rubber Room"
Portrayed by S. Epatha Merkerson
Time on show 1993–2010
Seasons 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
Credited appearances 390 episodes (L&O)
1 episode (CI)
1 episode (TBJ)
392 episodes (total)
Preceded by Donald Cragen
Family Donald (ex-husband)
Rick (son)
Stefan (son)
Frank (fiancée)

Lieutenant Anita Van Buren is a fictional character on NBC's long-running police procedural and legal drama television series Law & Order, portrayed by S. Epatha Merkerson. By episode count, she is the longest-running character on the show. Medical Examiner Elizabeth Rodgers, portrayed by Leslie Hendrix, joined the show a year earlier in 1992, but she appears in fewer episodes. She appeared in 392 episodes (390 of Law & Order, the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Badge" and the Law & Order: Trial by Jury episode "Skeleton") and Exiled: A Law & Order Movie.

Character history[edit]

Van Buren joins the cast in the 1993 episode "Sweeps", succeeding Capt. Don Cragen (Dann Florek) as commander of the 27th Precinct Detective Squad after Cragen transfers to the Anti-Corruption Task Force. Throughout her run on the show, she oversaw the work of detectives such as Lennie Briscoe, Mike Logan, Rey Curtis, Ed Green, Joe Fontana, Nick Falco, Nina Cassady, Cyrus Lupo, and Kevin Bernard. When her detectives make mistakes, Van Buren focuses on salvaging investigations rather than focusing on their failures.

For the entire duration of the series, Van Buren carries a Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver as her duty weapon. In season 5, episode 6, she becomes the first L&O main character to fire her weapon in an episode when she uses her S&W36 to defend herself from an armed mugger.

Van Buren is known for her toughness, but she often pays a price for it. In the 1994 episode "Competence", for example, she shoots and wounds a would-be mugger who attacks her at an ATM, and kills the mugger's partner, who turned out to be a mentally retarded teenager. She was investigated, and absolved, by the Internal Affairs Bureau.[1] In the 1998 episode "Ritual", she nearly loses her job when she sues the NYPD for promoting a white woman with less seniority ahead of her.[2] In the episode "Monster", the Chief of Detectives tells her she will have to resign to get her squad the resources it needs to apprehend a child rapist.[3] A judge eventually dismissed her discrimination suit.

During a murder case, Van Buren learns that the case that led to her promotion to lieutenant was tainted by a dishonest fingerprint examiner's report. The expert, a friend of Van Buren's, had been falsifying various other reports and is tried for her actions, saying that she was just doing what Van Buren wanted. No action is taken against Van Buren, but the scandal continues to haunt her.[4]

In the 2006 season, she is forced to accept Nina Cassady as the replacement for Det. Joe Fontana upon his retirement. Van Buren believes that Cassady is too inexperienced to be a homicide detective, creating a risk to her partner. Van Buren had a "hand-picked" replacement for Fontana who was much more experienced than Cassady. She eventually learns to tolerate (and perhaps accept) Cassady as a member of her squad; however, this acceptance does not seem to last long and in the seventeenth season finale "The Family Hour", Van Buren berates the detective for her inability to keep her temper in check and suggests that Cassady has no future in the 27th Squad.

Van Buren appeared in 390 episodes of Law & Order and is the second longest-running regular character in the Law & Order franchise, behind Donald Cragen.

Personal life[edit]

She was born at some point after 1952.[5] A graduate of John Jay College (as is Ron Carver from Law & Order: Criminal Intent), Van Buren was married to Donald, who owned a hardware store.[6] They divorced in 2004.[7] They have two sons, Stefan, who is the eldest,[8] and Ric, who was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of six in 1995.[9] It is revealed that she spent five years as a patrol officer and seven years in undercover narcotics.[10] Further revelations are that she enjoys the poet Langston Hughes, and that she is left-handed.[11] She had a sister who was greatly upset by the fact that she could not have children.[12] In 2001, her sister lived in Queens.[13] While she was a student, she usually travelled to John Jay College on the E train but occasionally got a lift from her uncle, who was a cab driver.[14] She was opposed to the Iraq War.[15] She disapproved of hunting.[16]

Her father was wounded in Wasu, Korea during the Korean War in 1952. He spent time at Tulsa VA Hospital in Oklahoma and his wife later claimed that he would have died if it had not been for the excellent care that he received from the medical staff. He had died by 2007.[17] Her detectives have affectionately addressed her by two shortened versions of her rank: "L.T." (commonly used by Rey Curtis, Cyrus Lupo and Kevin Bernard)[18] and "Lieu" (commonly used by Lennie Briscoe and Ed Green).[19]

In Season 20, Van Buren is diagnosed with Stage-II cervical cancer, caused by the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus — which she contracted from her cheating husband Donald. She later begins chemotherapy (L&O: "Just a Girl in the World"). In the following episode, L&O: "Great Satan", one of her sons (it is unclear which one, as he is not named onscreen), is portrayed by Sean Nelson. Due to the chemotherapy, she has lost her hair and begun using a wig (L&O: "Human Flesh Search Engine"). In that same episode, her boyfriend Frank (portrayed by Ernie Hudson) appears for the first time. It is revealed in L&O: "Boy Gone Astray", that she has not been eating much since she began chemotherapy; her son tries to help by offering her some medical marijuana, which she initially rejects because it is a crime in New York and she is a sworn police officer. Later in the episode, she tries the potential remedy (presumably outside of work; this is not revealed in the episode), someone in the precinct house smells it on her (the identity of that person is also not revealed in the episode), and the Chief of Detectives stops by and tells her that someone smelled it. To her surprise, the Chief gives her mints and directs her to someone who sells medicinal drugs and is careful and discreet. The Chief does this because he had testicular cancer three years before on the show, and the marijuana got him through the treatments. In "For the Defense", van Buren regains her appetite for the first time in six weeks. Unfortunately, by the episode "Fed," her treatment is apparently not progressing well and she is becoming increasingly worried about her chances of survival. However, in the final episode of the season (and ultimately the series), "Rubber Room", her health appears to have improved: she receives a call from her doctor, looks back at her colleagues and whispers "Thank you...Thank you" to herself. The series ends with a fund-raising party that her colleagues organized in order to help her pay for the expensive treatment. The party was Lupo's idea after he overheard Van Buren's phone conversation in which she mentioned increasing medical bills. On the same occasion it is revealed that she and Frank are engaged.

Work history[edit]

Time period Senior Detective Junior Detective
1993–1995 Lennie Briscoe Mike Logan
1995–1999 Rey Curtis
1999–2004 Ed Green
2004–2006 Joe Fontana
Nick Falco
Ed Green
2006–2007 Ed Green Nina Cassady
2008 Cyrus Lupo
2008–2010 Cyrus Lupo Kevin Bernard

Awards and decorations[edit]

The following are the medals and service awards fictionally worn by Lieutenant Van Buren, as seen in "Gunplay" (season 15, episode 5).

American Flag Breast Bar.jpg American Flag Breast Bar
WTC Breast Bar.jpg World Trade Center Breast Bar
Mpd.jpg NYPD Meritorious Police Duty
NYPD EPD.jpg NYPD Excellent Police Duty


  1. ^ "Competence". Law & Order. Season 5. Episode 6. 1994-11-02. NBC. 
  2. ^ "Burden". Law & Order. Season 8. Episode 20. 1998-04-24. NBC. 
  3. ^ "Monster". Law & Order. Season 8. Episode 24. 1998-05-20. NBC. 
  4. ^ "Myth of Fingerprints". Law & Order. Season 12. Episode 7. 2001-11-14. NBC. 
  5. ^ Law & Order episode "Over Here", originally aired May 11, 2007.
  6. ^ Law & Order episode "Scoundrels", originally aired November 30, 1994.
  7. ^ Law & Order episode "Just a Girl in the World", originally aired October 2, 2009.
  8. ^ Law & Order episode "Suicide Box", originally aired March 26, 2003
  9. ^ Law & Order episode "Mother's Day", originally aired January 8, 2003
  10. ^ Law & Order episode "Fame", originally aired September 22, 2006.
  11. ^ Law & Order episode "Slave", originally aired April 21, 1996.
  12. ^ Law & Order episode "Scrambled", originally aired November 11, 1998.
  13. ^ Law & Order episode "Whiplash", originally aired April 18, 2001.
  14. ^ Law & Order episode "Star Crossed", originally aired February 19, 2003.
  15. ^ Law & Order episode "Embedded", originally aired November 19, 2003.
  16. ^ Law & Order episode "License to Kill", originally aired February 23, 2005.
  17. ^ Law & Order episode "Over Here", originally aired May 11, 2007.
  18. ^ Law & Order episode "Navy Blues", originally aired October 15, 1997
  19. ^ Law & Order episode "Bad Girl", originally aired April 28, 1998