Movie review of “Peace Officer”: This documentary about the militarization of law enforcement is nothing if not timely, though its focus is mostly confined to one state, Utah.
“Peace Officer,” a documentary about the militarization of law enforcement, is nothing if not timely, though its focus is mostly confined to one state.
Its central figure is Dub Lawrence, a former sheriff and county commissioner in Utah. In 1975, Lawrence started the first SWAT unit in Davis County.
Decades later, he got a new perspective on the results: In September 2008, his son-in-law Brian Wood was killed by a member of that unit in a standoff after a fight with Lawrence’s daughter. Lawrence saw the killing as a wildly overzealous reaction that flew in the face of expectations of police professionalism and training, and he resolved to determine exactly what happened.
‘Peace Officer,’ a documentary directed by Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber. 109 minutes. Not rated. Sundance Cinemas (21+).
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
Retired from public service, Lawrence is shown at work repairing sewage pumps. He also assists in investigations of instances in which law-enforcement officers are accused of using excessive force elsewhere in Utah. He scours homes to determine who stood where and when during police raids.
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The directors, Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber, selected Lawrence as a subject before last year’s unrest in Ferguson, Mo., prompted a surge in reporting on the flow of military weapons to municipal police forces. They provide some national context through interviews with experts on that issue.
At the same time, “Peace Officer” does little to examine the impact of race on the deployment of force and, by emphasizing drug enforcement, it skirts the role of the Sept. 11 attacks in augmenting police militarization.
Some of the most quietly powerful footage shows Lawrence hanging lines to reconstruct bullet trajectories, and lying on a driveway to show the position of his son-in-law when he died. While “Peace Officer” could offer more information, what is here is disturbing and sometimes eye-opening.