Independent Lens: The Force

About This Episode


At a powder keg moment in American policing, The Force presents a fly-on-the-wall look 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.

Filmmaker Pete Nicks embedded with the department over the course of two years to follow OPD’s serial efforts to recast itself. The film spotlights the new chief, hailed as a reformer, who is brought into effect reform at the very moment the Black Lives Matter movement emerges to demand police accountability and racial justice both in Oakland and across the nation.

The Force also follows the journey of young cops in the Police Academy who are learning how to police in a new era of transparency and accountability. 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. Under scrutiny as never before, these officers respond to a constant flood of 911 calls, and the film reveals the wide gulf between how cops see themselves and how they are seen by the public.

Despite growing public distrust, the OPD begins garnering national attention as a model of police reform. But just as the department is on the verge of a breakthrough, the man charged with turning the department around faces the greatest challenge of his career when a scandal breaks out.