“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
In 1974, William “Dub” Lawrence was elected the youngest sheriff in Davis County history, at just 29 years old. Within a year, he’d established the department’s first SWAT team with the intention of deescalating scenarios at high risk for violence. Davis himself was an unimpeachable officer of the law, one who believed in minimum force, keeping the peace and holding himself and his department accountable, going so far as to write himself a ticket after parking his squad car illegally outside of an ice cream parlor.
Today, Dub makes a living by unclogging sewage lines in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, the same county where he once acted as sheriff. He prefers this job; “it’s a lot less stressful.”
In 2008, Dub witnessed the homicide of his son-in-law, Brian Wood, by the SWAT team he’d founded thirty years earlier. Wood had suffered an emotional breakdown and assaulted his wife, Dub’s daughter, before locking himself in his father’s pick-up truck with his gun. The SWAT team arrived and engaged in a twelve-hour standoff, during which Dub assured his family that the police could be trusted, that they had this situation under control and would be able to peacefully detain the panicked Wood. The SWAT team fired 111 lethal and non-lethal rounds as Wood attempted to surrender multiple times. He was shot in the head and, as he lay on the ground, unarmed and bleeding, was finally killed. “I have waited four years for a just verdict,” Dub tells us quietly. “It does not appear to be forthcoming.”
Dub now devotes his life, when he’s not cleaning out sewers or flying the single-engine aircraft he designed, to investigating Wood’s death and other police deaths in the surrounding area. He has a hall neatly lined with countless evidence photos posted in tidy sequential order. He’s an extremely thorough investigator with impeccable training, and he frequently discovers evidence that the police have either missed or covered up, illuminating often damning circumstances surrounding these violent deaths. Dub is now a committed and outspoken detractor of the militarization of police, a topic that has grown increasingly voluble in the year since the shooting of Michael Brown and the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
In that way, Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson’s Peace Officer is a timely documentary, and a powerful one. The film broadens from Dub’s experiences and those cases he investigates to follow the history of police militarization, from the first SWAT raid in 1969, of the L.A.’s Black Panther headquarters, through Nixon’s war on drugs and the beginning of the “no-knock raid,” to the moment that Reagan “took the War on Drugs and made it literal” with the use of assault rifles and, finally, to the 1033 program, which authorizes the transfer of military equipment to police, for free, with the stipulation that the equipment must be used within a year.
Peace Officer is also quite even-handed, giving equal time to the police officers involved in these circumstances, including Davis County’s new sheriff who understands the fear of militarization, but speaks compellingly about the safety benefits for his officers when they are in high-risk situations.
But there’s an undeniable truth that is plainly revealed in Peace Officer: that keeping the peace is no longer the priority it once was for upholders of the law. Dub, who has spent his career “obsessed with the idea of a peace officer being a trusted friend, a qualified, trained peacekeeper,” has fallen into disillusionment when it comes to his former occupation, and he has taken the single-minded focus and considerable mental resources he had devoted to law enforcement and now uses them to fight the forces he once upheld.
Dub is the perfect subject for such a film; he is intelligent, dispassionate but personally appealing, and he is unquestionably informed when it comes to both sides of the subject at hand. Barber and Christopherson do not shy away from the great racial inequality in police death statistics, often discussing Ferguson and the proliferation of police violence in populations of color and low income, but for those who would believe police violence is “a black problem,” Peace Officer does not let them off the hook. Brian Wood was white. Danielle Willard, an unarmed 21-year-old woman who was shot in her car for buying drugs, was white. Matthew Stewart, an ex-military officer who was growing marijuana in his basement and hung himself in his cell after being involved in a shoot-out in his home, was white.
The militarization of police affects all of us, a program that is increasingly proven to do more harm than good, eroding public trust in law enforcement and escalating situations to violence that could have been resolved peacefully. “Sometimes peace is purchased with violence, violence that no one wants,” a DA tells us feelingly, but Dub Lawrence rejects that philosophy.
Despite the heartbreaking power of its statistics and its stories, Peace Officer is not a film without hope. Through Dub, we see that something can be done about this seemingly unstoppable machine, “the mentality of aggression” that has claimed so many lives. From 2010 to 2014, there were more police deaths in the state of Utah than deaths caused by drugs or gang violence. In 2014, Utah passed SB 185, a law intended to make transparent and accountable the deployment of SWAT teams. Utah, where Dub lives, is as of now the only state with such a law, but through his efforts, through the efforts of others in this fight and through important films like Peace Officer, perhaps the rest of the nation will follow.
Next month, the Alamo Drafthouse is proud and honored to recommend Peace Officer. Read on for the press release!
Austin, TX--- September 3, 2015 --- The Alamo Drafthouse is excited to announce PEACE OFFICER as the latest Drafthouse Recommends title. The film will play at select Alamo Drafthouse locations starting in October. In Austin, Alamo will kick off the film’s run at the South Lamar location with a special screening on Friday, October 9, with director Scott Christopherson in person for Q&A.
Drafthouse Recommends is Alamo’s own spotlight for groundbreaking, innovative and intelligent first run films – or, simply, new movies that Drafthouse loves and wants everyone to go see. Previous Drafthouse Recommends selections include COP CAR, IT FOLLOWS, BIRDMAN, BOYHOOD, and SPRING BREAKERS.
Winner of the SXSW Grand Jury Award for Documentary Feature, PEACE OFFICER is a timely and powerful examination of the the issues surrounding the militarization of America’s police forces through the lens of William “Dub” Lawrence. A former sheriff, Dub is obsessed with bringing to light the truth behind the death of his son-in-law by the very SWAT team he founded 30 years earlier.
PEACE OFFICER follows Dub as he obsessively picks apart recent cases of officer-involved shootings and SWAT team raids in quiet neighborhoods from his unique perspective that combines the zeal of a rule-of-law detective with the grief of a victim.
“PEACE OFFICER is a moving and extremely timely documentary about a subject that needs to be more a part of the national conversation,” says Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League. “It takes apart the issue of America’s increasingly militarized police forces in a profound and even-handed way. I’m proud we can put the ‘Drafthouse Recommends’ stamp on it.”
Oct 9, 2015
Location: Alamo South Lamar, Austin, TX
Time: 7:00 PM
PEACE OFFICER Opening Dates and Markets with Ticketing Links
10/9 – Austin, TX
10/9 – Yonkers, NY
10/9 – Kalamazoo, MI
10/23 – Kansas City, MO