In making The Force, acclaimed documentary filmmaker Peter Nicks followed the Oakland Police Department (OPD) around for two years—two chaotic, scandal-plagued years. The result is a solid documentary with behind-the-scenes footage that regular people don’t often get to see.
Nicks takes the role of a dispassionate observer, capturing high-level officials dealing with police shootings and misconduct (and subsequent public outrage), the OPD’s interactions with reporters, training sessions for incoming cops (including one guy you just KNOW will be problem sooner or later), community meetings, and the day-to-day policing of a beat cop. It’s humanizing and insightful, with no obvious bias or sensationalism.
My only knock on The Force is a complimentary one: I wish I could see wayyyyyyy more than what was squeezed into a short 95 minutes. One of the scandals featured towards the end—I won’t spoil it for you, but if you’ve paid attention to Bay Area news since mid-2016, you’ll know it—isn’t given as much time as it deserves, considering the enormity of the allegations and the response by top officials. Nicks’ footage would thrive in, say, a miniseries on Netflix or HBO, with certain elements given more room to breathe; I’d watch 10 hours of it, easy.
Danielle Outlaw, Portland’s new police chief who worked at the OPD as deputy chief during the time that The Force was filmed, doesn’t make the final cut—and as a Portland news reporter, that’s kind of a bummer, as I was hoping to find some newsworthy Portland-specific tidbits regarding Outlaw. Regardless, The Force is a good doc to watch if you’re paying attention to under-fire and federally monitored police departments like those of Oakland and Portland.