Precinct Seven Five (aka The Seven Five) documentary review: badfellas

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Precinct Seven Five green light

A Scorsese-esque look, fascinating and horrifying, at the 1990s NYPD scandal that saw cops become the biggest, baddest gang on the city streets.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

As we now cope with the latest problem with policing in America — the overt militarization of local forces that has made cops see civilians as “the enemy” — let us look back on the last big wave of corruption in law enforcement via the biggest scandal in the history of the NYPD. In 1992, officer Michael Dowd, called by some the dirtiest cop ever, was arrested after it was discovered that he had turned the 75th precinct in East New York, Brooklyn, into his own personal gangland, selling drugs, setting dealers on one another, and extorting protection money from just about everybody… and that he’d been doing this for years. Documentarian Tiller Russell has assembled a Scorsese-esque examination — one that is fascinating in a horrifying sort of way — of how Dowd and his partner, Kenny Eurell, ran their operation, and how the lax culture of the NYPD at the time, which didn’t take integrity seriously, created a fertile breeding ground for such outrageous criminal activity by those sworn to protect and serve the public, not themselves. Dowd was far from the only cop behaving this way, as the citywide investigation known as the Mollen Commission uncovered at the time, and Russell deftly interweaves Dowd’s testimony to that commission with new interviews with Dowd and Eurell, along with stark black-and-white photos from the era, to create a riveting portrait of official authority and toxic masculinity gone way off the rails. The film leaves some important questions unanswered: Eurell’s wife is interviewed but not Dowd’s; where is she? Were either of their wives prosecuted for their involvement? And why isn’t Dowd still in prison, or did he even go to prison at all? (We do learn that Eurell made a deal with the feds to turn on Dowd.) But mostly, this is a necessary peek into a secretive subculture — cops! — that many people don’t even think of as a secretive subculture.

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Thu, Aug 13, 2015 4:43pm

This isn’t history. It isn’t over. This stuff goes ‘away’ for a while and always, always comes back.

Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

reply to  LaSargenta
Fri, Aug 14, 2015 4:14pm

It happens everywhere, but here’s an example from the US.

Hank Graham
Hank Graham
Thu, Aug 13, 2015 10:12pm

Or, in the immortal words of Dashiell Hammett (from the 1920’s):
“Who runs this town?”
“Who runs any town? The cops, the crooks, and the Big Rich.”

Fri, Aug 14, 2015 10:32am

I think it’s worth bearing in mind that the militarisation has also made the civliians see the cops as the enemy. With rather more justification.

(Did Americans ever get taught that a policeman was someone you could run to if things went wrong? I certainly was in the UK in the 1970s. I wouldn’t say that to anyone now, even in the UK.)

reply to  RogerBW
Fri, Aug 14, 2015 11:40am

Yes, you were actively taught that here; but, personal experience and witnessing events — depending on your demographic — often taught a different lesson.

reply to  RogerBW
Fri, Aug 14, 2015 12:42pm

In elementary school, we got an Officer Friendly coloring book. These days, it doesn’t seem ironic as much as sad. But now I live in a white, ultra-Orthodox, ultra-conservative neighborhood (some families won’t read books where boys play together with girls), and I’m pretty sure that kids are still taught that.

reply to  RogerBW
Fri, Aug 14, 2015 12:53pm

Did Americans ever get taught that a policeman was someone you could run to if things went wrong?

Yes, and — speaking from personal experience — sometimes it’s even true. But LaSargenta’s comment applies.

Tonio Kruger
reply to  Bluejay
Fri, Aug 14, 2015 11:16pm

Spend enough time around any group of human beings — including your own family — and you’re eventually going to find something to dislike about certain members of that group. If you’re lucky, you’ll also find something to like about members of that same group –but people aren’t always lucky.

That said, I have the same mixed feelings about police that many people have. I have heard a lot of negative stories about them from friends and relatives but I’ve also heard positive stories too — often from the same people who told me the negative stuff to begin with.

Anyway, my late father always said that the worst crook in the world was the one who wears a badge. This documentary proves his point.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Fri, Aug 14, 2015 10:10pm

I remember as a kid in the 70s in NYC that a policeman was your friend.

Of course, I was a *white* kid…

Fri, Aug 14, 2015 11:24pm

When I was 17 I read a book about Joe Trimboli, the IA officer that exposed Michael Dowd’s corruption. Officer Dowd bragged about all the stuff he was doing and the higher ups refused to investigate until Trimboli had amassed enough evidence that it simply couldn’t be ignored anymore. It was titled, “Good Cop Bad Cop: Detective Joe Trimboli’s Heroic Pursuit of NYPD Officer Michael Dowd”. I never lived in NYC but I am knowledgeable enough to know that during the 70s and 80s there was rampant corruption and crime before it evolved into one of the safest cities in the 90s and 00s. Since I’ll be moving to NYC next month I hope it can avoid backsliding in the next few years.