TV series on Baltimore’s crooked cops
The Baltimore police are on the move, invading the home of a known drug dealer, pushing the woman of the house aside, laying out the dealer, finding his mountains of cash and tossing the packs of money to each other — for their own keeping.
That’s in the opening TV chapter of “We Own This City,” the new HBO series about crooked cops in Baltimore in and around the year 2015. The series gets underway April 25, bringing back to the home screen the dramatic skills of “The Wire” creators, Davis Simon and George Pelecanos.
The six-part mini-series will be run weekly in a single season, each program one-hour long.
The series is based on the nonfiction book We Own This City by former Baltimore Sun crime reporter Justin Fenton. The book follows the rise and fall of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force, as well as the police killing of Baltimore citizen Freddie Gray, the protests that followed, and subsequent investigations.
Fenton had been covering crime since he went to work for the Baltimore paper in 2008. (He now works at the Baltimore Banner, a startup nonprofit digital newspaper.) He said that he wrote the book at the suggestion of former Sun reporter Simon.
“David Simon reached out to me and said, ‘You should write a book’” about the corrupt task force that Fenton had been reporting on. “If you do, we can make a show based on it,” Simon told Fenton.
Co-creator Pelecanos told the Beacon: “Justin Fenton’s book provided us with an excellent blueprint for the series.”
Pelecanos, award-winning author of more than 20 crime novels set in and around D.C., added that, while shooting the TV series, “We had police technical advisors every day.
“We met many people who had dealt with these particular [corrupt] police officers firsthand. The interactions we had with Baltimoreans were invaluable” in making the series, he said.
“We are always trying to answer the ‘why’ of the situation,” Pelecanos said of his TV work on the Baltimore crime scene. “In this case, what is it about the system that allows a squad of police officers to do a good job of getting guns off the street while at the same time violating the rights of citizens?”
In a recent column in the Washington Post, ESPN senior writer Michel A. Fletcher, writing about Fenton’s book, noted: “One of the culprits that emerges from the book is the war on drugs itself. The huge amount of money washing around in the trade is a corrupting force that attracts a seemingly inexhaustible stream of players…
“At the same time, the cops who are called on to keep order frequently behave like a callous, occupying force and, all too often, the money corrupts them, too.”
The TV series based on Fenton’s book focuses on the elite nine-member task force whose job was to get guns and drugs off the streets of the city. But the supposed good guys turned out to be bad guys, too.
An investigation found that, for more than a decade, rotating members of the force had been committing such crimes as armed robbery of suspected drug dealers, keeping the stolen money, and illegally selling the drugs.
In addition, they were planting evidence, initiating reckless car chases that, at least once, turned fatal, and even collecting overtime pay while they were on vacation.
Filmed in Baltimore
The television series, which was filmed last fall in Baltimore, was directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, who also directed, among other films, “King Richard” — the movie about the family of tennis-playing sisters, Venus and Serena Williams — which was nominated for six Academy Awards.
“We Own This City” stars Jon Bernthal as Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the former leader of the Gun Trace Task Force. Jenkins, one of the eight task force members found guilty in 2017 of federal racketeering charges, is serving 25 years in prison.