That police brutality is a common occurrence in HBO’s The Wire does not set it apart from other filmic depictions of police. What is distinctive is the fact that police violence is neither condoned nor relegated exclusively to a few “bad apples.” Instead, The Wire depicts structural causes of police violence by showing how organizational dysfunction leads some of the very best police officers on the force to commit unjustified and inexcusable violence. We explore four structural mechanisms the show depicts: the police code of loyalty: the hyper-masculine need to project power and dominance; the strategic imperatives of the War on Drugs; and a collective action problem among police. The implication of this complex depiction is that the elimination of police brutality requires far more than removal of a few bad officers. We conclude by briefly exploring how police departments might reverse the structural and institutional mechanisms causing police violence.
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