The Police Tapes

Distributed by: Docurama

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            A few days ago, a friend of mine told me about a video documentary about the 44th Precinct in the Bronx, New York.  The documentary, The Police Tapes, was created for public television by Alan and Susan Raymond in 1976 and shows what crimes the police faced during that period of time in an area of the Bronx I know very well.  The 44th Precinct, for those who don't know, is the area surrounding Yankee Stadium.  I decided to check the video out.

            Before there was COPS, there were The Police Tapes.  For this documentary, Alan and Susan Raymond spent three months tagging along with patrolmen and detectives working out of the 44th Precinct in the South Bronx, one of the areas in New York with the highest crime rate.  They travel along on domestic disputes, shooting and stabbing investigations, rape investigations and more.

            Unlike COPS, The Police Tapes are much more raw in their depiction of crime in the South Bronx.  Viewers see what it was like for police officers before all of the high tech gear, computers, etc.  They get to see what it was like when crime was rampant and the Bronx was burning.  Viewers get to see what it is like when a routine arrest turns into an all out brawl after the perp decides he doesn't want to return to jail.  They learn just how "interesting" some of the tenants of the projects in the South Bronx could be.  They learn about the tactics that police have to employ to catch their perp and the means with which they had to cope with riotous situations in order to survive.

            As enjoyable as the ride-alongs are, I found the words of Chief Tony Bouza, the Bronx Borough Commander, who insightfully explained the reasons that police tend to become jaded on the job and sometimes appear callous or hard.  As he states, the people who sign up to become police officers are really genuinely good people who want to help others.  These people are told that they are going to help people on this job.  They hear the same thing as they go through the police academy, only to discover that when they finally get out on the street, the very people they want to help resent and often times hate them.

            Equally insightful is Chief Bouza's explanation as to why the crime rate in the South Bronx is so high.  He explains just how hard it is for the people in this area to survive on a day to day basis and how difficult it is for people to stay away from the crime, what with the lack of jobs, lack of recreational activities and ease with which they can obtain drugs and alcohol.

            The Police Tapes is filmed in black and white, the video can sometimes be a little off as the cameraman moves the camera about to collect the best angle and sometimes the sound is a bit off.  That being said, I felt that these things didn't take away from the documentary - it just made things more realistic to me.  This wasn't a cleaned up version of police roll calls, investigations and arrests.  This was the real deal, filmed in an area that I knew very well at a time when the police had to fight crime with very little technical assistance and very high resistance from the neighborhood at large. 

            The Police Tapes is definitely a documentary that I will recommend to others, especially those interested in the history of the New York Police Department and those interested in the South Bronx of old.  What a great documentary filmed at a time when reality television didn't even have a name yet.


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