The video starts with flashing sirens, accompanied by a Eugene police officer dramatically looking away from the camera as high piano notes play. Two officers then handcuff someone wearing a beanie and oversized jacket in the dark of the night.
Police action continues, with one officer overseeing a Duck football game, a pair of officers raiding a home with flashlights and rifles and another putting on her equipment vest.
Joe Lowndes is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oregon and studies the right wing. “It’s a recruitment video,” Lowndes says. “It’s trying to attract people to join the EPD.”
The gritty, near two-minute video is a Eugene Police Department recruitment promotional advertisement and is filled with police officers engaged in adrenaline, action-packed activities, which has led to community criticism. After Eugene Weekly reached out about the imagery in the video, EPD says it’s pulled the video from the internet, yet defends the use of a Blue Lives Matter flag in the ad.
The video has some people questioning just who EPD is recruiting.
According to the contract obtained by EW between the city and American Zealot Productions, the video’s targeted audience are college graduates, military specific recruits and transfers from outside police departments.
With portrayals of EPD officers whipping squad cars around a parking lot, defusing bombs and arresting people over and over again, Lowndes says it makes local police work look like an action movie. “What you’re looking for is people who see police work as an exciting, aggressive and thrilling action-packed vocation,” he says. “One that is about violence and coercion.”
What’s missing from the video is showing police work as public servants, he adds. After Minneaoplis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd by kneeling on him for more than nine minutes, support for slashing police budgets and funding programs like CAHOOTS became popular with Americans.
Police departments responded by saying their work duties include social services, not just arresting people.
“There’s a very important public question right now about who the police are, and it’s a public relations problem for police,” Lowndes says. “If EPD is recruiting people for the job of adrenaline-filled violence and coercion, that doesn’t do much for the argument that we should be funding for these roles; it undercuts that police are there for other duties.”
The strategy of police recruiting has remained static over the years, says retired Lt. Scott McKee, who worked for Eugene and Springfield police departments for 35 years and has experience in police recruitment and community relations. The recruitment video, he says, follows an expired template of what the department thinks police officers look and act like. He says the people who are making hiring decisions are those who have been at the police department the longest, and they have an outdated vision of what a police officer should look and act like.
McKee is best known for his work investigating fellow EPD officers Roger Magaña and Juan Lara, who were subsequently fired from their positions and later convicted of various criminal offenses for leveraging their positions as EPD officers to abuse and sexually assault women.
“If you’re really going to change the face of law enforcement, then you have to reach the other segment of society that doesn’t apply to become police officers but would nonetheless be somebody who maybe their neighbor would say, ‘I’ve seen him or her do some heroic stuff,’” McKee says, adding that the community should be more involved in a police officer’s hiring process, including having candidates do interviews with the public.
The video also has a brief glimpse of a Blue Lives Matter flag in the background in a shot of a female police officer sitting in an office. Lowndes says the flag is a powerful ideological symbol, which became more popular in the past few years in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.
EPD had run a 30-second version of the recruitment advertisement on local TV channels, which didn’t have the Blue Lives Matter flag shot, says spokesperson Melinda McLaughlin. But she defends the use of the flag, saying it was created in the 1950s and popularized in the 1970s as a representation of the sacrifice and courage involved with policing. “The flag has not been a ‘blue lives matter’ flag for our profession,” she says via email. “That is something that has been co-opted by other groups, but that is not what it means to us.”
According to a report by the nonprofit and nonpartisan investigative journalism organization The Marshall Project, the Blue Lives Matter idea was popularized in the U.S. in 1922 as New York City Police Commissioner Richard Enright was facing public criticism and used it for his public relations efforts. That phrase was then used by Los Angeles police chief William Parker in the 1950s, who said police defended Western civilization against communists, minorities and progressives.
The flag was then created in 2014 by then-college student Andrew Jacob, the president of Thin Blue Line USA, which condemns the use of the flag being used with racism, bigotry or hatred, as well as its presence at the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to its website.
The videographer, Rick Stewart of American Zealot Productions, has worked with EPD in the past, McLaughlin says. The contract between the city and Wright doesn’t have a specific amount that Wright will receive for the video, and McLaughlin says the city hasn’t received an invoice yet. But the contract does say the recruitment video shall not exceed $15,000.
According to American Zealot’s other work listed on its website, it has also produced videos for police equipment companies, including Glock pistols and flashlights that feature local law enforcement officials. And he’s had work that’s been on the NRA’s Patriot Profiles channel. On his Twitter account, Wright has shared misinformation on the 2020 election.
The scope of services of the project, according to the contract, says Wright will film and photograph EPD officers conducting various duties, including “Explosive Ordnance Demolition,” “Special Weapons and Tactics” as well as uniformed patrol, canine, drone, detective work and more.
With that source material for recording, the result is a video that is fit for a police drama trailer, McKee says. But it’s a recruitment tool that reaches the same old group of people, he says: the alpha personalities. If EPD wants to change the complexion of its staff, he says it has to start at the recruiting level. “If you want to reach deeper, then you’ve got to aim broader,” he says.