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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.
Gangs

Will 'End of Watch' Shift the Perception of Cops?

2012's "End of Watch" avoids Hollywood stereotypes when depicting police work.

February 11, 2013  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.
Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.

It its heyday, Hollywood gave us fanciful but popular depictions of heroes like Errol Flynn in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938), Gary Cooper in "High Noon" (1952), James Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), Gene Kelly in "The Three Musketeers" (1948), and even politicians such as James Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939).

In the small screen of early television, heroes like Hopalong Cassidy and the Cisco Kid defended the weak and brought justice to the wild West. Christian ministers and Catholic priests, such as Bing Crosby in "Going My Way" (1944), were presented as characters to be respected and admired. These stories may have been works of fiction but they inspired us to be better people. These Hollywood heroes accepted fair play and honesty as virtues.

I've had the good fortune to have had some great jobs. I've been a soldier and fire-team leader in Vietnam. I've worked as a deputy in the Los Angeles metropolis, as a gang investigator in the most active station areas, and as the supervisor of a team of detectives assigned to major crimes.

As a result of these experiences, I've collaborated with professional writers and advised Hollywood producers and directors on the real world aspects of law enforcement. In the "pitch room" or on the set of movies and television productions, I've attempted to give these people the best and most realistic information possible. But I've often been frustrated by misconceptions and prejudices in Hollywood. During the production of the television mini-series "Drug Wars – The Camarena Story" (1990) and movie "A Man Apart" (2003), my suggestions often fell on deaf ears. Hollywood prefers its own version of gritty realism.

Hollywood people always say they want gritty realism in the production. To them, gritty realism means the good guys in law enforcement are imperfect. They break into the bad guy's homes to obtain information. They have stashes of illegal weapons. They get drunk or high on drugs. They sleep with their informants and even suspects. They kill people out of revenge. Today's police heroes are really anti-heroes.

When suggest that the best cops are not like that and don't act that way—that sometimes the good guys actually win against bad guys—they laugh at me. They think that honest good guys only win in the fantasy of old-fashioned fairy tales.

Hollywood continues to crank out stereotypical police dramas featuring the seedy underbelly of society and the cockroaches that inhabit it so they can include the required anti-hero cops in the search for gritty realism. Today, anyone who espouses Judeo-Christian values in a movie is usually depicted as a bad guy. There are no characters worth emulating in any of these movies.

One of my favorite writers and one of the most successful, Charles "Chic" Eglee, once told me that the he wrote the good-guy characters as about 80% good and 20% bad, and his bad guys are 80% bad and 20% good. Eglee's negative perceptions of his cop heroes come from his college years and his involvement in the civil rights movement on the East Coast. His perceptions were based on facts that he experienced.

Whether we wish to admit it or not, our role models sometimes come from the characters fleshed out in these fictional Hollywood movies. In the past, these characters were over the top and too good to be true. They have been rejected by movie writers and the public. But which cop would you rather have respond if you or someone in your immediate family had become a crime victim—the cop whose role model was Gary Cooper in "High Noon" or one who's hero is Denzel Washington's Alonzo Harris in "Training Day" (2001)? On a dark and lonely night, do you want the cop who stops your teenage daughter to be only 80% good and 20% bad?

My soul has been hurt and my heart saddened by the increasing wave of police corruption cases that have flashed across the TV and computer screen lately. Even the "holier than thou" FBI has reported an unprecedented number of federal agents who have been convicted of corruption, even in very high positions. We've been disappointed and shocked by the unethical conduct of some of our peers and supervisors. What's changed?

Some of the blame for this unprecedented corruption can be laid at the feet of cops in current Hollywood movies and television. Instead of holding up a moral and ethical crusader and knight-like hero, they consistently give us the gritty realism of the anti-hero cop. The police characters they have given us are flawed. They play hard and fast with the rules. They win by any means necessary.

The newer generation who have grown up with these stereotypical, and popular, depictions of cops as anti-heroes have become victims of this propaganda. The acceptance of this stereotype seriously weakens the mind-set of young people and endangers their ability to resist ethical and moral corruption and misconduct. Rather than calling them up to the higher principals, these movies seemingly condone cheating and acts of street justice under the color of authority.

"End of Watch" (2012), which has made several top-10 lists, provides a refreshing avoidance of this Hollywood formula. This production has captured the most realistic depiction of everyday police officers working a gang-infested, economically-depressed, crime-ridden area. The two primary actors, who play LAPD partners, accurately portray the dialogue and banter exchanged in a patrol car by real cops while attempting to keep the peace in this impossible environment. It seemed so real that I felt like I had known these cops at some point in my career. It transported me to my time as a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy.

As with the best cohesive units I was part of, the kidding and bantering was sometimes racial. But contrary to the usual Hollywood stereotype, the cop characters were not depicted as racist or bigots. They liked each other. In attempting to do their jobs, the cops risked life and limb to protect the innocent, especially the children, who exist in the accurately portrayed gritty reality of the ghetto. The characters showed us that these cops honestly cared for people.

The movie's gang-member characters are also more like real gang members. Unlike most stereotypical Hollywood gang characters, they are accurately portrayed as violently crazy and dangerous, but disciplined while operating within their own code of conduct. They are much more frightening as villains because of this. The introduction of Mexican drug cartels into the story is an additional true-to-life departure from Hollywood's political correctness. 

This movie isn't perfect, but it's a positive depiction of the men and women of law enforcement. It is not a fairy tale, but it's uplifting and inspirational. Like those classic movies, this movie shows the noble side of this job and the sacrifice required to be a good officer.

Because of my experience with Hollywood movies, I hung around after the last scene to see the credits. Near the end, I saw part of the reason why this film was so accurate and realistic. The list of technical advisors included experienced gang cops from LAPD CRASH and LASD OSS gang units. The movie is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Related:

Is 'End of Watch' Just 'Training Day II?'

'End of Watch' Based On LAPD Cop's Patrol Duty

End of Watch Podcast

End of Watch Trailer

Tags: Cops In Movies, TV Cops, Police Corruption, Thin Blue Line


Comments (11)

Displaying 1 - 11 of 11

Billy @ 2/18/2013 10:49 PM

I bought he Blue Ray of End of Watch, it was worth the money. The banter has changed quite a bit since my street days...or maybe younger-set, SoCal banter is just different. The felony stop where they walked up on the car was "Hollywood" or bad tactics, but most of the movie rang true. I'm glad to see Southland is back on TNT.

Adrian Stroud @ 2/19/2013 3:58 AM

Great and beautifully written, thank you. I always had a picture of a Texas Ranger on the door of my locker next to pictures of my family. It inspired me. I also admired the courage of Gary Cooper's character in High Noon. I always wore (and still do) my St. Michael the Ark Angel medal.

Rob @ 2/19/2013 6:28 AM

I finally watched this movie last week and was impressed. Yes, there's some Hollywood in there, but they could be a couple of good cops in any major city anywhere in the nation. I grew up with all the cultural cop media of movies, books, and television as early as the mid 60s, but my role models were more a couple of family members in law enforcement and Jack Schaeffer's "Shane," (book not movie) than the Hollywood cops. I appreciate your well-penned article.

Capt David-Ret LA County @ 2/19/2013 7:56 AM

Not a bad movie.but......what DA would not file charges on the ADW and the seizure of dope and money in the cook pot? But, it's a movie. What I thought was an outstanding point was when one cop said to the other.."what other kind of job could I get paying this kind of money with a high school diploma?" Unfortunately to meet hiring quotas that's the case...pay should be doubled but a degree required..

Jim VG @ 2/19/2013 9:41 AM

Great article and review. So many things rang true. I too enjoy watching Southland. However if you look at the characters in the show, each and every one of them is "flawed" in some from the FTO who is/was addicted to prescription pain killers to the rookie who may or may not have killed the father of a prostitute. Alcoholic officers and the female who "mistakenly" shot a teenager with a toy gun, (That would have been a good shoot in my opinion), and covered it up and was promoted. The acting and story lines are good but from having over 30 years in law enforcement, I've never seen that many officers with problems at one station at the same time.

TAB @ 2/19/2013 11:07 AM

Great points and well written. I am reminded about when I first saw Backdraft several years ago. I was interested in what my friend, a fire chief, thought about the film starring Kurt Russell. He almost laughed out loud about how inaccurate and stupid the film portrayed fire fighters. I just smiled and said "Now you know how skewed police movies are by the movie mills." I guess we can never expect a return to the Adam-12 depictions of an earlier, less self absorbed era; but you correctly and succinctly touch on the inevitable fall out of how heros are depicted in film. I'd like to ask an airline pilot how closely Denzel's depiction to professional pilots as seen in his recent film rings true to that profession. Seems like he has done for pilots what his Training Day portrayal did for police officers. Keep the Walls Bare!

Maria @ 2/20/2013 7:01 AM

Thank you for a great insight. You are so right. I've been in entertainment for many years and the tv shows and films glamorizing violence and the negative is now being replayed by the youth of today. There is no parenting with kids of today and they have no respect for adults or law enforcement. By and large people support their officers but when the tabloid media only reports the negative that's what the youth see. Thanks to films like End of Watch for having the guts to be different.

pup @ 2/26/2013 11:06 AM

I knew Rich (the author of article) back in my early days of police work (70/80's) and I can tell you he is one of the best, if not The Best Gang Cop in the country. I learned so much just by watching him work the gangs. The movie itself reminded me of the older days of working the gangs while on Patrol. The guys in OSS were great, as we worked together as a whole. It's just sad to hear the young kids in LE now days think the movie is a Hollywood script and the times of brotherhood never existed. The actors did a great job, protrying a 2 man hoop. Being on the job 35 years, I can say I've seen an 180 degree turn from "we", "team" to the "I" attitude. Hopefully one day it will change back to the old days. Be safe out there...

Onthejob @ 2/27/2013 3:59 PM

I liked it for the most part but the most unrealisitic part was how long they had to wait for cover at the end. They'd already called for cover, supervisor, airship before the bad guys bailed from the car. In LA the place would have been crawling with cops way before they had to move to the alley. Other than that I was able to suspend disbelief for the Hollyweird stuff.

Greg @ 2/27/2013 5:49 PM

Thanks for that articulate, well penned article. You made some excellent points. I am going on 41 years in Law Enforcement, 27 of them with LAPD. I really enjoyed the movie's treatment of the partnership. I have been fortunate to have two long term partner relationships like the one portrayed and I can honestly say that they were some of the best, most exciting times in my life. Brought back some good memories. And as a supervisor, it was always an awesome time when you had two young hard chargers paired up that clicked and became super novas. It was like hitching your wagon to two thoroughbred race horses. You want to give them some guidance and steer them through the minefields, but basically you just hang on and enjoy the ride! Stay safe you all!

Anthony Manzella @ 2/28/2013 1:03 PM

As most of you know by now, Richard Valdemar has testified as our (me and my partner Ruth Arvidson) Eme expert with regard to each of the 16 Mafia murders we have prosecuted. One of our favorite examples of Richard on the witness stand is the following:

I had finished my long direct examination of Richard and, then, the defense attorney stood up to begin cross examination. The defense attorney looked and sounded like he was "loaded for bear". He began his cross with a long winded restatement of an answer Richard had given on direct. When he ended the question with a satisfied look on his face, Richard answered as follows:

"Counsel, I could not have said it better than you just did. Thank you for clearing that up."

The defense attorney just stood there for a few, long seconds. Then, he went back to the counsel table, sat down, and said: "I have no further questions." Ruth and I looked at each other and it was all we could do to keep from laughing out loud!

Great work, Rich!

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