The challenges facing American law enforcement are nearly legend.

For decades protesters have pounded the pavement, citizens have cried, and lawmakers have lamented. Abuse of power is costing lives year-in and year-out, and it’s almost as if the powers that be aren’t even trying to change things.

…but what if they are, and they’re still failing?

THE FORCE takes us inside the walls of the Oakland Police Department, a law enforcement division that just fourteen years ago was declared so rife with misconduct and civil rights violations that it was placed under federal oversight. Trust me, that’s bad. The films looks at the goings-on within OPDHQ from 2014 through 2016.

It is the era that gave rise to Black Lives Matter, and an age when civil unrest and digital documentation has the police under more scrutiny than ever. How will the OPD respond?

What might be most surprising watching this film is that we see concrete evidence that American law enforcement is not leaning back and conducting business as usual. They are not circling the wagons, nor continuing to hide behind the “blue wall of silence”. Divisions like Oakland PD are actually owning up to their misdeeds and trying to apply new training and new philosophies to every new class of officers that put on the uniform.

However, as the film also shows, it’s never as simple as “fresh tactics”. Good intentions are great, as is greater resolve. Still, while we listen to the words coming from the lips of command, we watch the body language of the officers that must live up to them…and there we see just how challenging any change in the system will be.

If there’s a singular moment in THE FORCE that underlines what today’s American cops are facing, it comes from Ben McBride, a community liaison working with the OPD. He looks a classroom full of officers in the eye and reminds them of the history of their profession:

“The past stole your identity and racked up an incredibly high bill”

That’s the challenge facing not only the OPD, but any police officer in any city in America. They are not only trying to do their best at a very difficult job, but trying to atone for abuse of power that goes back hundreds of years. It would take generations to bring that deficit up to zero if they could somehow get their act together tomorrow…which no police department in America seems capable of.

So the sins of the past make for a tumultuous present and an uncertain future.

THE FORCE seems convinced that the concerns of America’s distrust of their law officers are not falling on deaf ears. It wants to underline that the powers that be are trying to turn the ship around. However, the hull of America was built many centuries ago. How long does it take to turn that sort of ship around, and is there even time left to do it before it eventually sinks?


THE FORCE plays at Hot Docs 2017 once more, at The Isabel Bader Theatre on Sunday May 7th – 1;30pm. (official website)