A high-profile police shooting rocks the Minneapolis Police Department, and its reform-minded first female chief is forced to resign. Following three women officers— who carry on the fight to transform the MPD and restore community trust—WOMEN IN BLUE explores gender, violence and policing in America.
WOMEN IN BLUE opens in 2017, as Chief Janée Harteau, the city’s first female police chief, works to remake the MPD in the wake of an officer-involved shooting—of an unarmed man of color—by getting rid of bad cops, retraining others and increasing diversity. As part of this effort, she works to recruit more women and promote them into every level of leadership.
Sergeant Alice White grew up in an African-American neighborhood with a “f*ck the police” attitude, and now leads procedural justice trainings—teaching cops fairness and respect; still, she is torn between being both “black and blue.” Commander Melissa Chiodo, the first woman to head Special Crimes—that handles domestic violence and sex trafficking—does things differently, charging those buying, not selling sex. Rookie Erin Grabosky, just 24, navigates night patrol—going from bar fights to suicide attempts—trying to show that some cops care.
When another officer-involved shooting stuns the city—this time of an unarmed white woman by a black officer—the city erupts and Chief Harteau is forced to resign. The new African-American chief appoints only men to his top brass. Amidst reports of racial bias and police brutality in the news daily, Sergeant White, Commander Chiodo and Officer Grabosky struggle to do their jobs. They also fight for gender equity, convinced that it’s one key to reducing police violence. Their trajectories provide an arresting look at gender, race, and violence in American policing, and at women cops committed to reimagining their heavily male-dominated profession.
In 2014, I was filming my most recent film CARE in Staten Island, when I heard that Eric Garner had been killed by the police only blocks away. Garner, who was arrested for selling loose cigarettes outside a convenience store, was held in a choke hold, and despite his desperate pleas of “I can’t breathe” was not released and died in the encounter. Outraged by this police violence, I turned to the only law enforcement professional I know, Sallie Norris, a lieutenant in the NYPD. I wanted to know whether or not if she’d been there, if Eric Garner would still be alive. Off the record she told me, he most definitely would be. She said, she would have started by simply saying, “Hi, my name is Sallie Norris, what’s yours?” The rookie had gone the opposite way and resorted to violence, quickly escalating the situation out of control.
I started wondering whether women tend to approach policing differently than men. When I discovered statistics going back to the early 1990’s indicating that women officers are far better at de-escalating conflict and use excessive force in radically lower numbers, I couldn’t believe that no one had made a film investigating this angle on policing, so I decided to be the one to do it. I went to the Minneapolis Police Department because Chief Janee Harteau was interested in having more visibility for women officers and gave me full access to the department. Since last April, I have been devoted to this film—and this question: “Could women help both change the culture of policing and create reform?”
"The #Timesup and #Me Too movements have given wings to long-time feminist goals. Now is the moment to turn our attention to one of our most entrenched bastions of male culture-the institution of policing that is so clearly failing us all. Not only do I support this project. I believe it could save lives."
-Katherine Spillar, executive editor of Ms. and co-founder and executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and the Feminist Majority
Director Deirdre Fishel
Fishel is a producer/director of documentaries and dramas that have premiered in competition at Sundance, SXSW and AFI and been broadcast in 35 countries worldwide. Her most recent film Care looks at the poignant, but hidden world of home elder care while exposing the cracks in the U.S. care system. It premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest, broadcast on America Reframed and had an extensive national outreach and engagement campaign. In addition to making films, Fishel is the Director of the BFA in Film/Video at the City College of New York.
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