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Series / We Own This City

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"If I was going to look up one problem cop as a prime example of what has gone wrong here in Baltimore, where would I start?"
Nicole Steele

We Own This City is a 2022 HBO Miniseries, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton and co-created by David Simon, former Sun reporter and creator of The Wire.

The plot revolves around a real-life scandal involving corruption in the Baltimore Police Department's Gun Trace Task Force in the late 2010s. Sgt. Wayne Jenkins (Jon Bernthal) is the leader — or rather, ringleader — of the unit, which pilfers drug money for their own use and shakes down ordinary citizens for more. Det. Sean Suiter (Jamie Hector) is an honest BPD cop who nonetheless finds himself caught up in the GTTF case. Nicole Steele (Wunmi Mosaku) is an attorney for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division who becomes involved in the federal investigation into the unit's activities.

The series premiered on April 25, 2022.

We Own This City contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Since we see early on Jenkins' arrest by the FBI, all of his subsequent Cowboy Cop gregariousness to people both in the office and on the job comes across as this.
  • Anachronic Order: The series jumps around in time quite frequently, oftentimes using the jumps to give context to interrogations the characters are in, or more context to their situations.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Steel is questioning police union representatives, who defend the current conduct of the BPD in the wake of Freddie Gray. When she point blank asks "Could there ever be a moment, where a police officer performed their job in such a manner that you would agree with a finding that he or she should fired for abusive behavior or brutality?" One of the representatives responds with "Certainly", so she immediately follows up with "Has it ever happened?" There's a lengthy pause, before the representative states they are a labor union and they represent their officers.
  • Author Appeal: A story about government corruption and incompetence centered in Baltimore? How fast did David Simon sign up?
  • Author Filibuster: The series is peppered with interviews between Nicole Steele and a wide range of Baltimore residents who all take the opportunity to deliver speeches listing all the ways in which the government and law enforcement are failing the community. Their arguments will sound very familiar to anyone who has seen David Simon's other works.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": This is one of Hersl's favorite things to do. If he's feeling like being a jerk, he will stick his gut out and bump into the person that he's arrested, claim that the victim "assaulted an officer," and then proceed to go to work on being a total ass to whomever is the poor fool he happened to pull over that day.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Jenkins is caught breaking the rules, his CO tells him that he could lose his job over this, causing Jenkins to freak out. Then the CO laughs and says it was just a joke. The police will cover for him because he's "an earner."
  • Beleaguered Boss: Police Commissioner Davis comes across as this. It's to the point where DOJ lawyer Nicole Steele isn't sure whether he's a good man who's trying to reform a deeply corrupt department, a weak man who gets pushed around by the forces around him, or a good but weak man who's trying to reform a deeply corrupt department but who gets pushed around by the forces around him in the process.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jenkins and the Gun Trace Task Force are arrested and the broadly corrupt plainclothes units are disbanded. Yet Davis is replaced with a Commissioner who reinstates those units (later caught on embezzlement charges himself), the similarly corrupt mayor ruins the DOJ's chance of implementing police reform, and the Baltimore murder rate continues to rise.
  • Book Ends: The series begins and ends with a scene of Jenkins delivering a speech to a group of new recruits, though the second example is an Imagine Spot in which the audience is filled with all the cops he's worked with.
  • Broken Pedestal: When Jenkins pulls his Secret Test of Character on K-Stop, it's clear that the latter is highly offended at the idea of police officers skimming money off the top of evidence collections (which Jenkins and crew do all the time). And even though Jenkins and Hersl pass it off as just joking, the brief Death Glare K-Stop give Jenkins makes it clear that he doesn't think it was funny or a joke. As one arrested GTTF member later snarks to federal agents interviewing him, Jenkins was so wrapped up in his get-rich-quick schemes to defraud the city of Baltimore that he forgot that not every cop is a Dirty Cop. So Jenkins transfers K-Stop out of the squad to avoid any more awkwardness and/or potential incriminating moments.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • George Pelecanos (the other co-creator aside from David Simon) appears briefly in the fifth episode as a homicide detective.
    • In the series finale, Simon and Justin Fenton play reporters grilling Police Commissioner Davis at a press conference.
  • Deconstruction: It's a David Simon Police Procedural set in Baltimore, so naturally the series is chock full of this.
    • The concept of the Cowboy Cop takes a beating here, as the Crapsack World that is the War on Drugs in Baltimore shows that, if anything, plainclothes cops that try to be "street smart" are actually more susceptible to being corrupted by the systemic degradation than a rookie right out of the academy.
    • The notion of a single Internal Reformist (and just the concept of an internal reformist in general) is scorned, as despite Police Commissioner Davis' sincere desire to make the department better, he is simply overwhelmed by the forces that either benefit from the current method of policing or who would be harmed by an actual change.
    • Depressingly, the idea of government oversight of local police departments is also chopped up, as idealistic hopes of getting Baltimore to sign a federal consent decree is stonewalled by local politicians who are more concerned with optics and/or being friendly to business than in putting any form of restriction on cops.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The series examines how cognitive dissonance and the blue code of silence protect corrupt cops and allow them to continue thinking of themselves as the good guys even as they rob citizens and the government. The series even touches on small privileges of the job, such as the way Jenkins and his men think nothing of drinking alcohol while driving right up to the station.
  • Dirty Cop: The story revolves around an entire unit of dirty cops in the Baltimore Police Department.
  • Drinking on Duty: drinking ont he job is presented as something of an honored tradition in the police force, but Wayne Jenkins takes it to a new level by openly flaunting half-empty bottles of Hard Lemonade from the window of his squad car.
  • Driven to Suicide: Discussed. After Sean Suiter is shot, title text explains that an independent investigation ruled that he shot himself, though the official ruling is homicide. It's heavily implied that he committed suicide to avoid repercussions of the GTTF investigation. It shows him seeing suspects that his partners doesn't, indicating he's planning on framing his death on a non-existent person, and has the responding officers talk about how he didn't drop his radio while fighting for the gun, making it most likely that he shot himself, based on the evidence at hand. Still there is room for some ambiguity, given that we never see the shot in question, only hear it.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The members of the GTTF are absolute scumbag Dirty Cops, but Wayne Jenkins' decision to rob a dwarf stripper of her money and then immediately flee the scene is apparently a bridge too far for them.
  • Evil Is Petty: Hersl gets his reputation by framing citizens for assaulting him just because they annoy him while he shakes them down. the GTTF also likes to make a mess when searching suspects and destroying personal objects.
  • Fat Bastard: Hersl has a large gut he even uses as a way to manifacture assault charges by deliberately bumping into people. He also has Jabba Table Manners.
  • Hate Sink: The first episode introduces Daniel Hersl, who has fifty complaints against him, yet since only one is sustained, he is still able to operate on the street. We're introduced to him being a petty dick to a guy at a traffic stop, throwing the man's cards out of his wallet for no reason. Later in the episode he brutalizes a man for talking back, leading to an ambulance being called. Hersl is such an In-Universe asshole that when DOJ lawyer Nicole Steele asks various figures to name the "prototype" bad Baltimore cop, everyone immediately cites Hersl as an example.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: At least one character gawks at Erika Jensen.
  • Here We Go Again!: After vanishing for a few episodes, the county police return to finally arrest the drug kingpin they've been chasing in the area... only to learn he was robbed by a different BPD officer connected to Jenkins and the GTTF.
  • Historical In-Joke: Newly appointed Mayor Pugh spends much of her screen-time focusing on funding the Baltimore hospitals and schools rather than the issue of police reform. While reasonable on paper, viewers unfamiliar with Baltimore politics are thus caught off-guard when the finale reveals she was indicted on fraud and tax evasion related to her medical charity work.
  • Hypocrite: Jenkins is introduced lecturing a group of fresh recruits on the value of community policing and strongly advises them against using undue force or heavy-handed tactics in the course of duty. It's slowly revealed over the series that Jenkins is himself the ringleader of corrupt cops who steal from drug dealers, plant evidence and brutalize suspects, further deteriorating the public's trust in the police department.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Invoked several times by the police, with the especially brutal Officer Hersl claiming that any officer without any complaints against them isn't doing real police work.
  • Insistent Terminology: If anyone brings up the number of complaints against Officer Hersl, it is always immediately followed with a qualifier that "only" one complaint has been sustained.
  • It's All About Me: It's established from the first scene of the show that Wayne Jenkins loves being the center of attention, is particularly proud of being a Cowboy Cop, and he carries himself with total confidence in thinking he's the coolest guy in the room. Notably, however, whenever he feels like he's been disrespected, a more nasty side emerges.
  • Jabba Table Manners: When Nicole Steele goes to interview Hersl, he's eating wings at a dive bar. Before he offers to shake her hand, he licks his fingers, and then wipes them messily on his shirt. No napkin is used. It's heavily implied he did this just to make Steele uncomfortable.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: At a work cookout, Jenkins attempts to rag on his co-workers for drinking an alcohol he doesn't recognize, therefore making it worthless and garbage. The alcohol in question is Patron tequila, arguably the most famous brand of tequila on the market. Jenkins' mispronunciation of it as "Pat-ron" leads his coworkers to understandably razz him, and Jenkins throws a childish temper tantrum.
  • Little People Are Surreal: while the incident isn't highly surreal, the incident where Wayne robs a dwarf stripper is presented as a very absurd incident.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: It's very subtle, but GTTF Sergeant Allers is clearly shaken up by the knowledge that his theft of $10,000 from a random house bust led to the homeowner's death, as the 10k was going to pay off drug debts he owed.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: As pointed out in the fifth episode, towards the end of the GTTF's reign they were stealing as much from each other as they were from criminals and ordinary citizens.
  • No Warrant? No Problem!: the BPD can always find a reason to search a car, including just ambient marijuana smell on the street.
  • Obviously Evil: Steele and her comrades can't understand how such an obviously corrupt cop like Hersl is still on the police force. Even local rappers even name-dropping him in their lyrics. For his part, Hersl wears a perpetual weaselly sneer and has an obnoxious personality.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: Corrupt cops seem remarkably reluctant to get lawyers, with one outright stating that he'd rather not shell out the money. While the GTTF officers might feel immune to punishment or be resigned to their fate, Suiter has no excuse. Already nervous over his past coming back to haunt him, he does not immediately request a lawyer when told that he's been implicated in a case of police corruption and even asks the FBI agents interrogating him whether he's going to lose his job. You'd think a homicide detective would know better.
  • Only in It for the Money: At least 90 percent of the GTTF indulges in this trope, and as the series progresses, it becomes the unit's number-one priority to get paid (mostly illegally from robbing drug dealers, regular law abiding citizens, extortion and wire fraud) instead of “protecting and serving” the people of Baltimore.
  • Police Are Useless: Basically everyone in Baltimore seems to think so of Baltimore's finest. Notably, the primary problem that everyone has with BPD in this series isn't the prevalence of dirty/corrupt cops (of which the citizenry has sadly become used to), but rather a sudden prevalence of lazy cops who are apparently engaged in a work slowdown in protest of the Freddie Gray indictments, which is causing a spike in crime. After all, if the police aren't even bothering to do their job, then what's stopping criminals from doing theirs? Furthermore, the BPD's aggressive nature has a chilling effect on the effectiveness of the BPD as a whole: honest cops have extreme difficulty in talking to civilians, because no one trusts cops, and in courtrooms, it can take days just to seat 12 Baltimore citizens on a jury (therefore clogging up the judicial system as well) because so many people believe they cannot trust the word of a police officer on the stand.
  • Precision F-Strike: In a show filled with curse words and harsh language, young police officer K-Stop's response to Jenkins' "hypothetical" question about whether or not cops should skim money off the top of an evidence collection carries a lot of weight.
    K-Stop: I think that's a fucking terrible idea.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: It seems as though the favorite beverage of Wayne Jenkins, hero cop and underworld kingpin, is Mike's Hard Lemonade.
  • The Reveal:
    • The three armed robbers are actually cops.
    • Suiter, the upstanding homicide detective, has also taken money.
  • Secret Test of Character: In a Flashback during the fifth episode, Jenkins and Hersl meet up with K-Stop, a young officer who idolizes Jenkins, to ask him what would happen if he searched a drug dealer's house and found a pile of money - would he take it? Appalled, K-Stop says he would have no part of that. The two senior officers laugh and play it off as if he's passed their secret test of character. But of course, the officers are thoroughly corrupt and had hoped he would give the opposite response. K-Stop was transferred out of the unit soon afterwards.
  • Start of Darkness:
    • Episode Two shows us glimpses of Jenkins's descent from a straight-laced rookie in 2003 into the borderline-megalomaniacal Dirty Cop he is at the time of his arrest in 2017. In one instance, he's shown bringing a bunch of crabs to a BBQ, only to be upstaged by a friend who brought lobster and fancy steaks. In lamenting the money he spent, it foreshadows his decision to start gaining money by any means, even if it means being more brutal with suspects.
    • Flashbacks show us how some of the other GTTF officers got into the unit out of a desire to make more money and further their careers.
  • Title Drop: In Episode Four, Jenkins has a big speech about how the GTTF will fake overtime since as long as they get results it's what they deserve. He caps it off with "We literally can do whatever the fuck we want. We own this city. We own it."
  • Trademark Favorite Drink: Jenkins is personally fond of Mike's Hard Lemonade, which invites some razzing from his oworkers for being a girly choice.
  • You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With: Wayne Jenkins is outraged to be detained by the FBI, and it's not because of any real innocence, but because he seems genuinely shocked that they would dare try it on him.
    "Do you know who I am?"