Within popular culture, the depiction of policing and police deviance is highly prevalent throughout the media, whether fictional or factual. Amidst an abundance of media representations of police deviance, it is interesting to investigate and examine the relationship between fictional portrayals of police deviance with real examples and academic research regarding the corruption of police officers, police units, and police departments. For this post, the fictional 2001 film, “Training Day”, will be analyzed, in specific to determine any relationship among fictional displays of police deviance, with reality. Also to uncover any underlying themes and messages in relation to the police deviance depicted.
The movie is a police drama that focuses on a veteran police officer, Alonzo Harris, training a rookie officer, Jake Hoyt, on his first day with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) narcotics unit. Jake is a keen young officer of 19 months who is expecting to utilize his training and skills from the police academy while policing within the narcotics unit. His character is displayed as having integrity, honor as an officer, being truthful, and having a righteous mentality of locking up the criminals. However, within a 24-hour training period with Alonzo, his character as a person and a police officer is continuously tested as he is presented with several opportunities of corruption through his veteran mentor. As a veteran of 13 years within the narcotics unit, Alonzo Harris’s methods and techniques of policing are highly questionable; it is clear that Alonzo’s character as a police officer slowly became embedded within police deviance and corruption; following academy notions of justice and policing by the book didn’t seem to yield satisfactory results and breaking the law to get the job done was considered necessary for himself and fellow officers.
Jake accompanies Alonzo on a ride along through the streets of Los Angeles, where Alonzo gives Jake 24 hours to show him that he has what it takes to be apart of the tough narcotics unit. Immediately, Alonzo tells Jake to forget what he has learned at the police academy because dealing with the streets in practice is not textbook policing. The first ethical scenario presents itself, when Alonzo wants to observe Jake pull over a vehicle of young college students suspected of buying narcotics for recreational use. It is within this encounter that Jake witnesses Alonzo’s tendency of violent confrontation and intimidation towards suspects and citizens. Through this encounter, Alonzo seized a pipe with Phencyclidine (PCP) and falsely tells Jake the drug in the pipe is low-grade marijuana. He then forces Jake to smoke the drugs putting a gun to his head and threatening him, stating that his failure to comply would get him killed by a drug dealer on the streets. He either had to take the drugs or discontinue training because he wouldn’t have the right character or drive to be in the unit. Jake, begins to wonder whether this is a common ritual amongst rookie-mentor training, and apprehensively takes the drugs. He soon begins to realize, the drugs he consumed is not marijuana as the effects are stronger and he is in a dissociative state. As the ride along continues, Jake witnesses in a dissociative state, a young woman being sexually assaulted by two men in an alleyway. He jumps out of the moving vehicle and confronts the men as a police officer; a savage fight ensues but Jake detains both men without the help of officer Alonzo. Alonzo applauds Jake’s drive and training in apprehending the two men but instead of writing a statement and following procedure, Alonzo viciously abuses one of the men while boasting of his authoritative power. Alonzo lets the men go, in spite of Jake persisting on arresting them. Jake begins to discover that Alonzo’s mentality and character towards policing vastly contrast his own; this is not what he expected policing to be. The ethical tests continue, as Alonzo escorts Jake to a home where he uses a fake search warrant to gain entry for his own purposes. Within the home that they illegally entered, the female resident understood the officers as corrupt and screams for help from the nearby Crips gang and gunfire ensues. Officer Alonzo continues to display his deviant character and retaliates by opening fire in the neighborhood. The training day progresses forward as Alonzo meets up with high-ranking officials to discuss the negative predicament he landed himself while in Las Vegas. The officials referred to as “The Three Wise Men”, suggest Alonzo quickly leave the country as he owes the Russian Mafia a significant amount of money and his life is at stake. Alonzo being full of arrogance and blinded by power believes he can control the situation by taxing an old friend, who was introduced earlier in the film, named Roger. The money obtained earlier by the fake arrest warrant, was used by Alonzo to obtain an additional arrest warrant to use on Roger. The deviance and corruption becomes increasingly worse and more apparent as the day continues. Alonzo gathers three narcotic officer, as well as, Jake to carry out the taxation, using the warrant to gain entry. Alonzo seizes millions of dollars from Roger, while stealing some of the money for himself and distributing $500,000 for each of his colleagues, but Jake refuses the kickback. Alonzo instructs Jake to kill Roger to officially be apart of the narcotics unit, Jake angrily denies, leading Alonzo to execute the killing. Alonzo begins to inform and instruct his fellow colleagues on how to cover up the killing to appear justified as self-defense in carrying out their “legal” arrest warrant. Jake, frustrated and angry states he wasn’t going to lie and he didn’t want to be apart of any of this. In this scene, Jake truly understands the depth of the corruption; Alonzo threatens Jake’s life, prompting Jake to seize the gun from Alonzo and turn it on him. Alonzo finally reveals that if Jake doesn’t co-operate, they would aid in the administration of a blood test which would reveal the PCP he was set up to consume. Eventually, Alonzo’s sets up Jake for death, in order to get rid of possibility that Jake would snitch, and to complete the arrangement he had carefully made to free himself of any debt to the Russian Mafia. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the movie any more, the ending is really good!
The deviance displayed within the film is perfectly described by the definition provided by Punch (2009) stating, “police corruption relates centrally to abuse of office, of power, and of trust and manifests itself in many ways, but most frequently in consensual and exploitive relations with criminals, in discrimination against certain groups, in excessive violence, and in infringements of the rule of law and due process”. The corruption within the film is high in ranking; we see it with the three wise men granting a favor arrest warrant at a pretty price. Alonzo and his fellow colleagues depict perversion in policing by executing an unjust murder and illegally seizing evidence for personal gain. Other forms of illegal deviant behavior deals with Alonzo’s relationships with several criminals (including the Russian mafia), his tendency of excessive violence and intimidation, abusing his authority as a police officer by using fake arrest warrants, drinking and doing drugs on duty, training and recruiting rookie officers into corruption, letting criminals off for personal reasons and gain, falsely planting evidence, and tampering and stealing evidence. What was particularly interesting was when Alonzo asked Jake if he wanted to be a wolf like himself, or a sheep, doing office and administrative police work. This quote can be compared to the Knapp Commission Typologies of police officers, specifically in relation to meat-eaters and birds. The wolf, as a meat eater, are those police officers who look for opportunities of corruption, exchange police authority for benefit, and essentially where a police officer is deeply engaged in criminal activity and behavior. The sheep, in this instance, can be compared to a bird; Alonzo believes those who are not apart of the corruption are weak, passively doing desk jobs and considers them to be beneath him in power.
The portrayal of police deviance and corruption within this movie isn’t as farfetched as some may believe. There are several examples within the reality and history of policing across the world that have, and continue, to deal with severe forms of corruption. The movie looks at the corruption within the LAPD narcotics unit, focusing on undercover officers apart of that unit. We can compare this corruption to the LAPD Rampart Scandal. The LAPD’s Rampart Division, specifically, the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) unit, were heavily engaged in police misconduct and corruption in the late 1990’s. More than 70 police officers were under investigation in relation to misconduct and corruption. Offenses included: unprovoked shootings, unprovoked beatings, planting of false evidence, framing of suspects, stealing and dealing narcotics, bank robbery, perjury, the covering up of evidence, rape. The Rampart Scandal had more than 100 cases overturned and several other cases were tainted. Many officers were suspended, forced to resign or retire, or fired. Research indicates that officers were driven towards corruption on the basis of money, racism, and power. The Rampart CRASH unit was created to address increasing issues surrounding violent crimes, gangs, drugs, and weapons. Their purpose was to combat these issues and officers were given wide discretion and power for this purpose. While the city found reduction in violence and gang related crime, it resulted in increased police corruption (Reese, 2003).
Various forms of media actively produce depictions of police deviance; this could possibly be to market to the general public today, who increasingly distrust the police whether through personal experience or negative media representations through the news or social media. When those who are given the power and authority to enforce the law and protect the public, abuse their authority and power, it can heavily taint police officers, units, and organizations causing public distrust. This can be considered a major contributory factor in our consumption of police deviance representations, particularly the increase in high policing, security and surveillance since the 9/11 incident, which created legislation with the authority to infringe civil rights in the name of national security. Many fictional pieces portraying police deviance are hauntingly similar to actual documented findings of corruption within various police organizations in the past, as seen in the abovementioned comparisons.
Newmyer, Robert. & Silver, Jeffery. Fuqua, Antoine. (2001). Training Day. United States: Village Roadshow Pictures & Outlaw Productions.
Reese, Renford. (2003). The Multiple Causes of the LAPD Rampart Scandal. United States: California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Retrieved online.
Nanda, Sudha. (2015). Police Deviance and Corruption. Personal Collection of Mike Larsen. Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Richmond, BC.