Similar somewhat to The Thin Blue Line in the way it investigates a broken justice system with the intention of raising awareness about the issues talked about, Peace Officer follows a Utah local named William ‘Dub’ Lawrence, who had served as sheriff in the 1970’s. During his time as sheriff the concept of SWAT teams was created, and in 1975 Dub thought that his county could use such a unit for hostile and violent situations.
30 years later, the SWAT team he created was responsible for the unwarranted shooting of his son-in-law.
Having worked as a police officer himself, while also being a very knowledgeable investigator, Dub has been obsessed with the case over a four year period, putting together a truly massive amount of information and evidence. Dub freely admits that it is a bit of an obsession, but hell, who could blame him? His friendly and caring nature gives the film a much needed heart, as he meets other families in the area who have suffered similar family tragedies. Without Dub and his giant grin and personality, this film could have felt like a sterile, depressing, news-style documentary. What we get however is extensive investigation into each of the crime scenes, usually coupled with stories from family members about the incident. Most of the film is narrated excellently by Dub.
Being a former law-man himself, these events worry Dub for more reasons than one. His son-in-law was fatally shot while posing no risk to anyone but himself. The other families Dub talks to have all report slightly different experiences, but they all involve the police and their heavy handed methods, eroding any trust these people may have had in law enforcement.
These heavy handed methods are scrutinised in the film, such as the excessive amount of military equipment now made available for small police departments, or the fact that SWAT teams are now used to execute simple search warrants, rather than their original intended function. In some cases, these SWAT teams park their cars around the corner or down the street, so the person living in the house they intend to breach has no idea the police have arrived. This can of course result in chaos, not to mention psychological trauma. How are these people supposed to know that it is the police who has broken into their house without warning??
This last sentiment really rings true when watching a leaked ‘helmet cam’ video of a SWAT team breaching a house. The ruthlessness of their actions is chilling.
This doco makes use of multiple police videos, and effectively shows how trigger-happy officers can sometimes be, acting and dressing as if they are an invading force against the people, who have seemingly become the enemy. This is the core theme I took from the film (especially considering the title), as the notion that a police officer’s duty is to ‘protect and serve’ is becoming more absurd and untruthful as time goes by. This contrasts greatly against Dub’s time as sheriff, who reminisces early in the film on an old news article reporting that Dub had accidentally parked in a no parking spot, and upon being told about it, he wrote himself a ticket. It is a corny little story but it summarises the type of person Dub is, and more importantly the type of police officer he was. He was someone who could be trusted to protect and serve.
The film must also be given credit for interviewing police officers as well as the families affected. But given how well the facts of the film are presented, I found it hard to not laugh at their ignorance. Not one of them could see past their rose-tinted glasses. Each one effectively says the same thing in a different way: “there is nothing wrong with training provided and we aren’t worried about the causalities that your film is focusing on”. This unfortunately isn’t surprising, as they are in a position of power. It isn’t in their best interest to acknowledge that yes, their methods are broken and need to be closely examined; that yes, innocent people are being killed, injured, imprisoned or scared stupid every day. Some of the statistics presented are mind-blowing.
For example, from 2010-2014, officer-involved shootings in Utah accounted for more deaths than drug and gang violence combined. If that doesn’t make you wary then you need to look around and open your eyes a little. I may not be a US citizen, but the behaviour and attitudes of their police forces has already trickled down to Australia, followed by the dark, dark blue, almost black, menacing uniforms. Never in Australia have the police seemed like such an enemy to the people, at least in my neck of the woods.
“I don’t think mankind is equipped to deal with injustice forever” – William ‘Dub’ Lawrence
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