DER Documentary

Pittsburgh Police Series

Pittsburgh Police Film Series

a series of 17 films
by John Marshall
black and white, 399 min, 1971-1973


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Sponsored by the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence at Brandeis University, the Pittsburgh Police films were shot by John Marshall in 1969 and 1970. Marshall used a Bogdanowicz modified Auricon with 12-120 Zoom, and later an Eclair NPR with 9.5-95 mm Angenieux Zoom. Sound was recorded using Nagras with Sennheiser shotgun mikes.

In spite of the racially tense climate in the city, following civil disorders in which 2,000 people were arrested (although no one was killed) in response to the death of Martin Luther King, permission to film was granted by the Director of Public Safety and by each Station's Inspector.

Individual officers provided access, and in each case the people involved gave their consent. Several years later, the Department and individual policemen were invited to participate in the discussion film, The 4th and 5th and the Exclusionary Rule, but the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association would not allow participation. The Pittsburgh Police Department now has copies of most of these films, all of which have been shown to Department members.

The films are designed for use in law schools, community relations projects, sociology and urban studies programs, and for use by the police themselves. In Pittsburgh, sequences shown to recruits in training and to off-duty officers provoked lively discussions about the conduct and decisions made by police officers in the actual filmed events. Opinions were often divided on particular cases, as well as on the basic issue of police roles. Recruits and officers argued about the extent to which the police must function as "social workers", becoming involved in domestic situations, and about their biases about men and women. "We always believe the woman and arrest the guy," said one policeman.

Underlying most of these films are the issues of privacy and civil liberties versus police intervention, interrogation, and search and seizure. More specifically the films may be grouped into several clusters that address various dimensions of these broad issues:

The Job: These films focus on the variety and ambiguity of police roles. (A Forty Dollar Misunderstanding; Vagrant Woman; Nothing Hurt But My Pride; Youth and the Man of Property; Inside/Outside Station Nine)

Searches and Seizures: Fourth Amendment issues are addressed in these films. (Three Domestics; Wrong Kid; After the Game)

Asking Questions: Fifth Amendment issues are at stake in situations in these films. (Investigation of a Hit and Run; The Informant; The 4th and 5th and the Exclusionary Rule)

Public Places: These films dramatize the issues of civic order versus civil liberties, of public versus private. (You Wasn't Loitering; Henry is Drunk)

The films in this series lend themselves especially well to analytical treatments in "clusters" such as these, since many are short sequences and none are narrated. The groupings suggested here represent examples, and numerous other combinations can be constructed in order to explore and illustrate particular themes.


Eleven of these films are also available on the Pittsburgh Police Shorts DVD, a 2007 re-mastered/authored set which also contains additional information about the series.

Films in the Pittsburgh Police series:
901/904
After the Game
A Forty Dollar Misunderstanding
The 4th and 5th and the Exclusionary Rule
Henry is Drunk
The Informant
Inside/Outside Station Nine
Investigation of a Hit and Run
A Legal Discussion of a Hit and Run
Manifold Controversy
Nothing Hurt but My Pride
Three Domestics
Twenty-One Dollars or Twenty-One Days
Two Brothers
Vagrant Woman
Wrong Kid
You Wasn't Loitering
Youth and the Man of Property

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