“It takes a wolf to catch a wolf”

Posted: March 1, 2015 by double d in Police Corruption and the 'War on Drugs', Policing's New Visibility, The Blue Wall / Police Secrecy
Tags: ,

“To protect the sheep you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” (Berman, Guggenheim, & Silver, 2001) *See Video Link 1* One of the many memorable quotes from Training Day (2001) the police thriller that has captivated popular culture and has cemented the cast and crew in Hollywood. The movie follows a typical narrative story line involving police work and corruption. Starring Denzel Washington as Detective Alonzo Harris of the Los Angeles narcotics unit and Jake Hoyt, a rookie cop fresh out of training joining the narcotics unit, played by Ethan Hawke.

As the title suggests this is literally Jake Hoyts (Ethan Hawke) first day – training day – in the narcotics unit. The progression of the Jakes training day reveals the culture within the narcotics unit in Los Angeles as Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) presents it to his new recruit (and us). The legal norms are illustrated through Jakes actions throughout the movie – the consensus perspective – the rules of policing that are clearly defined and yet we get a glimpse of the group norms of the narcotics unit depicted through the actions and words of Detective Alonzo.

In the first scene of the movie, in the diner, the nervousness seeps through Jakes body language and tone as he speaks. We also meet Detective Alonzo and right away we are shown his blatant demeanor; his excessive use of profanities does not uphold the universal CORE value of professionalism. But perhaps this is the culture in the plain clothes division of the L.A. narcotics unit. When Jake enters the 1979 Chevy Monte Carol ‘Office’ of Det. Alonzo, he gets the spiel from Detective Alonzo of what is required of him and what it takes – which is to forget the academy training “because that shit will get you killed… you gotta hear the street, you gotta smell it, you gotta taste that shit – feel it”, according to Detective Alonzo (Berman, Guggenheim, & Silver, 2001). “Informal norms and rules that govern everyday decisions and practices,” (Loftus 2010) are mandatory to survive in the streets as we learn right off the bat.

ear grab training day

As the movie progresses we (and Jake) start to see a ‘Dirty Harry’ – an officer classification by Punch (2009) of the character of Det. Alonzo – as the Detective in plain clothes and an unmarked civilian car makes a drug bust of a group of teenagers and basically scares them straight using minor force (twisting of the ear) and takes the drugs from them. And during this whole incident our rookie Jake Hoyt is mystified – so much in shock and aw that he loses track of his suspect. As the training day advances Jake is developing his working personality (based off the work of Jerome Skolnick, 1966) but the passive socialization reaches a pivotal point when Jake must make a moral judgment – a moral decision that will affect his future in the police department.

This is one of the most prevalent themes of this movie; our main character struggles with his own values and morals as he follows his superior to gain the ‘strips/stars’ that are needed to further his career. *See Video Link 2* Our rookie scums to the gun to the headpressures of fitting in and doing what it takes to advance his career – as well as a .45 ACP semi automatic pistol pointed at his head. In one scene a typification of Van Maanen’s (1978) ‘asshole’ is presented to us; where two men try to rape a young female and an illustration of street justice is performed by rookie and his superior, we see Jake fights for his life trying to subdue the two men yet Detective Alonzo does not arrest them *See Video Link 3*. In further scenes Jake indulges in what presents itself as the norm in the L.A. narcotics unit; such as drinking causally on the job. As the movie goes on we begin to realize that rookie Jake Hoyts is taking the form of being a ‘Bird’ – a alonzoharris1
classic typology that came out of the Knapp Commission (1972) – he tries his best to not participate in the deviant practices that are going on around him. To the contrary though, some may argue that Jake has become a ‘grass-eater’ because he is using drugs and drinking on the job and that is enough to ‘participate’. Nonetheless one thing becomes evident and that is Detective Alonzo Harris is not a ‘grass-eater’ but rather a vicious ‘meat-eater’, he actively looks for opportunities and seizes them even in dangerous situations.

Again Jake’s morals come into play as he refuses to accept the spoils of riches that Detective Alonzo seizes *See Video Link 4* but it does not go over well with his teammates; the ones who protect his back when he’s on the streets. At this point it is evident that Detective Alonzo and his narcotics unit is involved in ‘direct criminal activities’- a typology of Roebuck and Barker – by pulling off an armed robbery and further we discover that the unit is practicing ‘flaking and padding’ (a later edition of the typologies of Roebuck and Barker added by Punch) which involves setting someone up or writing false reports.

We finally see a sudden break in Jake which gives life into his complex character as he witnesses a man dying in front of his eyes. The credit of killing this man is given to Jake and it is stated that he will be hailed as a hero in the aftermath of this drug bust. *See Video Link 5* In his scene we see the ‘us vs. them’ situation depicted and Jake is forced to decided whether to walk out alive as a hero or carried out dead as a hero.

And we finally transition into one of the most important scenes of Training Day *See Video Link 6* we hear the rational that the vicious ‘meat-eater’ provides our rookie Jake. Not only is Detective Alonzo a ‘Dirty Harry’ but he is also an ‘Ideological Combatant’ –another one of Punch’s classification of officer types – we also learn of the origins, again from Punch, of the ‘game’ (corruption) that is within the police department. It is not only in the police domain of the narcotics unit but a system failure within the organization.

Fiction meets reality when the idea of this movie was first pitched it was based on hear-say; however as the Rampart Scandal began in 1998 the movie shifted its focus to resemble disgraced LAPD officer Rafael Perez (Berman, Guggenheim, & Silver, 2001). Now the film is a movie and not a documentary therefore fictionalization and glorification was probably added for cinematic enhancement for the film to be a success but the underlying theme is still prevalent – the moral decisions; the subculture of particular units, and the rationalizations from officers involved.

The rational that is provided by Detective Alonzo *link 6* may lead us to believe that the working personality of police officers based on the work of Jerome Skolnick that involves exercise of authority, exposure to danger, and pressure to produce may actually result in ‘entitlement’. The thinking that Detective Alonzo has of, “…because of all the garbage we put up with on the streets, what’s the big deal about a little speeding or a free meal” (Gilmartin) – to an extreme end in the movie of course- can manifest the deterioration of core ethics and give way to situational ethics.

Therefore that would lead us to believe that if we have strong values and ethics like our rookie Jake, we would not scum to the socialization of police sub-culture that participates in corrupt practices nor would our core ethics/values give way to situational ethics. That being said it would fall to the organization to have better screening processes during application selection.

With the movie’s success it became a blueprint with iconic lines and an Oscar wining performance; and referencing Goldsmith’s (2010) new visibility of policing, this movie became a catalyst to the Rampart Scandal involving Officer Rafael Perez and LAPDs C.R.A.S.H unit.


Berman, B., Guggenheim, D., Silver, J. (Producers), Ayer, D. (Writer), & Fuqua, A. (Director). (2001). Training Day [Motion Picture]. World Wide: Warner Bros.

Burke, R. H. (2014). An Introduction to Criminological Theory (Fourth ed.). New York: Routledge.

Gilmartin, K. M. (n.d.). Ethics-based Policing…undoing entitlement. Retrieved 02 24, 2015, from Emotional Survival: http://emotionalsurvival.com/ethics_based_policing.htm

Gustafson, J. L. (2007). A Descriptive Analysis of Police Corruption in Film. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14(2), 161 – 175. Retrieved 02 20, 2015, from http://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol14is2/gustafson.pdf

Larsen, M. (2015, 02 03). Week 5 Lecture. Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada.



1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnNT6zceYEM – takes a wolf

2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvSQzhOhDO8 – smoke it JAKE

3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K984fgQSWZA – Van Maanen’s asshole –street justice –

4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arkgpTGrhz8 – Jake’s morals

5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oY7QReO1WOQ – Jake’s had enough

6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onZwTLcePy4 – the talk of wisdom Alonzo


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