Sydney Underground Film Festival Review: Peace Officer (USA, 2015)

Peace Officer is one scary film and it’s not even a horror movie. This documentary is a timely and important one about the militarisation of police in the United States. It’s a fascinating, informative and balanced look at a complex subject and one that manages to hit all of the right notes.

The story focuses on William “Dub” Lawrence, a most engaging, principled and clever subject if there ever was one. He was once the youngest sheriff to be elected to Davis County in Utah. In 1975 he founded the county’s S.W.A.T team before eventually going on to work as a police commissioner and politician. In 2008 the same S.W.A.T team that he had founded in the seventies were responsible for the homicide of his son-in-law, Brian Wood after they had engaged in a long and tense stand-off.

These days Lawrence works part-time as a septic repairman and as a private investigator. He had some good training in terms of the latter as his previous police work included breaking the Ted Bundy case. These days he helps recreate crime scenes and he was compelled to take his forensic police knowledge and do this work after he had an obsessive need to find out the truth about his son-in-law’s death.

First-time feature-length filmmakers, Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson have done an excellent job in presenting information about a complicated subject in an easy-to-follow way. They give a history of S.W.A.T teams (they were originally devised to respond to rioting) and it is frightening to think that they are being used more increasingly. They describe how local police forces in America are being given decommissioned army equipment and how a lot of police officers no longer see their roles as “Keeping the peace” but instead tend to view their work as being like “soldiers” out to war against things like drugs and the like.

The film goes into other examples where the police allegedly used excessive force in a situation, like the drug bust on army veteran, Matthew Stewart. The latter’s home was raided by plain clothes policeman and resulted in several officers and Stewart being injured as well as one dead policeman. It was a shocking end to what could have been a stock-standard drug raid. The filmmakers also interview a young family who were raided by the police that had the wrong address. It could have ended poorly but thankfully didn’t.

The subject matter of this documentary is timely, considering the events that happened in Ferguson, Missouri after the film shoot wrapped up. This documentary does an excellent job in providing lots of history and information alongside archive footage, police tapes and re-enactments by Lawrence who is meticulous in his research and recreations of the crimes. The filmmakers themselves have also done a lot of research and have produced as objective a film as possible in the circumstances.

Peace Officer is an extraordinary, political film that is well-structured in showing Dub Lawrence’s quiet campaign for justice as well as the counter-arguments by law enforcers who err on the side of their own safety. It’s a compelling and level-headed look at some controversial and complex subject matter that should have a visceral impact on viewers as more revelations and criticisms are revealed. This film finds the right balance between history and science as well as facts and heart and it should open the way for a more extensive dialogue and debate to be had.

Review score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Peace Officer plays Sydney’s Underground Film Festival on September 19 and 20. For more information and tickets visit:


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