Heartland Film Festival: “Peace Officer”

By Bob Bloom

“Peace Officer” is the ironically titled documentary that looks at the increased use of police S.W.A.T. units and the ongoing militarization of local police departments.

Directors Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber place their focus on William “Dub” Lawrence, a former Utah county sheriff who established and trained the state’s first S.W.A.T. team in the mid-1970s.

Thirty years later, that same unit killed his son-in-law after a controversial standoff in the man’s driveway.

Lawrence, now a private citizen, is obsessed with the shooting, using his investigative skills to learn the truth about what happened and whether or not it was necessary to use deadly force to subdue the young man.

Lawrence also uses his talents to probe other officer-involved shootings in his and nearby communities, as he deals with the overall questions about the changing face and mission of police agencies nationwide.

While Christopherson and Barber try to be evenhanded, it’s obvious they lean toward Lawrence’s camp in the way they have edited the film and presented interviews with people from both sides..

Many filmmakers — fact and fiction — use movies to bring voice to their agendas. It’s then up to the viewer to choose which points to accept and which to reject.

The directors, however, seem to stack the deck in favor of those who have been touched by what they perceive as police overkill.

The families are painted in sympathetic lights, while the official spokespersons for the various law-enforcement agencies are presented as objective and cold, and seem to show sympathy only for the officers wounded in such encounters.

It would have benefited “Peace Officer” if some of those in law enforcement actually displayed some contrition or compassion for those affected by these situations.

Instead, they remain clinical and steadfast behind the thin blue line of officialdom.

At 109 minutes, “Peace Officer” does drag. The movie could have made its point in a shorter running span because various scenes of Lawrence investigating crime scenes to determine how many shots were fired and by whom do become repetitious.

One aspect the filmmakers do make clear is that a disconnect has sprouted between police and ordinary citizens who, when seeing departments with armored vehicles and officers with military-grade weapons dressed in military-style gear, feel threatened by the very people who are sworn to protect and serve them.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

2½ stars out of 4
Not rated: graphic violence

For showtimes and ticket information about the Heartland Film Festival, visit: http://heartlandfilm.org/festival/

“Peace Officer” will be shown at the following times and theaters:
10:30 a.m. Saturday, AMC Showplace Traders Pointe
2:15 p.m. Sunday, AMC Showplace Traders Pointe
3:15 p.m. Tuesday, AMC Castleton Square
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, AMC Castleton Square


  • ReelBob

    If you are going to Heartland, please share your observations about this documentary at ReelBob.