Crime & Justice

New documentary 'The Force' refuses to take sides in debate between police, public



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In recent years, tensions between the police and the public have reached an all-time high in the U.S. That strife is the focus of a new documentary called "The Force," which took home the Director's Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. 

"The Force" goes deep inside the long-troubled Oakland Police Department as it struggles to confront federal demands for reform, a popular uprising following events in Ferguson, Missouri and an explosive sex scandal. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrS5Okom6ow

A young chief, hailed as a reformer, is brought in to complete the turnaround at the very moment the #BlackLivesMatter movement emerges to demand police accountability and racial justice both in Oakland and across the nation. 

Meanwhile, young cops in the academy learn how to police in a new era of transparency and accountability. And out on the street, the camera gets up close as rookie and veteran officers alike face an increasingly hostile public where dueling narratives surround each use of force. 

"The Force" opens September 22nd at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles. 

KPCC's Alex Cohen spoke with director Peter Nicks. Below are some interview highlights:

WHAT WAS YOUR MISSION IN MAKING THIS FILM?

When we began conceiving this film, Black Lives Matter wasn't even a hashtag. The central question of the film initially we were really driven by the question of who becomes a cop and why. And how does that job change you over time. Because very clearly, there were failures at the individual level and at the institutional level, and we understood that. What we hadn't had a view of was the inside view of a police department at this moment in time (of federal oversight).

AS YOU SPENT TIME WITH THE POLICE DEPARTMENT, HOW DID YOUR VIEWS CHANGE?

I was quite surprised actually at how progressive the department was, from the leadership all the way down to the recruits that we make. That really struck us, especially as the protests broke out after Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted in the shooting of Michael Brown and there were lots and lots of protests. We met lots of other officers from different agencies in the Bay Area and we perceived a distinct difference in treatment and personalities from those organizations, who saw the Oakland Police Department as soft. That was an initial surprise. As time wore on, it got more and more complicated. 

THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS. WHEN IT COMES TO THE HUGE GULF BETWEEN POLICE AND THE PUBLIC, HOW DO WE GET BACK TO SOME SEMBLANCE OF UNDERSTANDING AND TRUST?

The moderation that can occur somewhere in the middle is going to be the key. The anger and the uncompromising demands that are happening on the edges are also important. It pushes our understanding and our urgency around reform and change forward. 

Click on the audio above to hear the interview in its entirety.