California Cops Fight Post-Occupy Stigma With Documentary on Officer Fatalities

Occupy Wall Street may have begun as a reaction to greedy banksters, but by the end, the narrative had morphed into kids versus cops.

"As a cop you do not want to be that guy with the mask on, with the shield, taking on all these protesters," says Thomas Marchese, a sergeant at the Soledad Police Department in NorCal. Yet the 99 percent came to think of law enforcement as the enemy -- likely because "police are the public face of the government," says Marchese.

The active-duty officer is hoping to alter that perspective...

... with a new documentary he's filming about cops killed on the job. Or, "all those who have sacrificed everything so that we may enjoy the safety and freedoms we take for granted."

More on the devastating statistics that drove him to action, from the film's website:

In the United States, firearm related line-of-duty officer killings have risen a staggering 40% in the past two years, with overall officer deaths up over 50%. Not only are more officers being murdered, more and more are being targeted, ambushed, and slain in numbers. There are many personal stories going untold beneath these percentages, and these fallen heroes deserve a voice, as do their families, loved ones and partners who are struggling to pick up the pieces these tragedies have left behind.

Marchese says he's gotten a lot of support for the film from police associations in SoCal. (But not from the LAPD. Who could, uh, really use the good press.) He's raised $27,000 of the $150,000 he'll need to complete the film, which is called Fallen, and he hopes to have it all wrapped up by the end of the year.

"One of the main theories [for the increase in officer fatalities] is that the economy's so bad," says Marchese.

And when the 99 is hurting, anger builds toward The Man -- most immediately identifiable as the tough-looking cop in the government badge and scary uniform.

The tanking economy also means sweeping budget cuts for police departments. Marchese points out that the burden of those cuts is unfairly shouldered by areas with the most need, because "unfortunately, places with money dont have very high crime."

(So forces like the LAPD get gutted, stretching their officers thin, while the Santa Monica PD hang around the nightclubs on Main Street looking for things to do and drunk rich kids to hassle. But that's another story.)

In the end, Marchese says, "We're not out to point fingers" by making the documentary. "We really just want to tell these stories."

Here's the trailer for Fallen.

On the topic of officer-involved shootings in particular, the filmmaker says he finds media coverage to be extremely skewed. When an officer shoots a civilian, "there is 10 times the outrage as when an officer gets killed," he says.

Last weekend in Pasadena, black teenager and high-school football star Kendrec McDade was gunned down by two cops who had been falsely informed that the young man was an "armed robber." The police say they fired when McDade reached for his waistband. In the heated aftermath of that killing, L.A. civil-rights leaders have called the officers racist and demanded they be kicked off the force.

Although Marchese is not familiar with the incident, he says, "We can only act on the information that we have. If [a suspect] reaches into his pocket, and I've been told he's armed, I'll do what I can to go home alive tonight."

You can donate to the documentary here. It's also gathering support on Facebook. This speaks to a greater push by law-enforcement agencies to connect to community members through social media -- as outlined at a recent police convention called SMILEcom, where L.A.'s own controversial Twitter cop got a shout-out.

Because the more cops can humanize themselves in the eyes of your average citizen, the less they'll be painted as robots in riot gear with bulls-eyes on their backs.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]


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