Often, police are as feared by the public as the criminals they pursue every day.
Silver screen star Vincent D’Onofrio is working to change that perception.
He made an April 19 guest appearance at the Pleasant Grove High School screening of “Heroes Behind the Badge,” a 2012 documentary about the line-of-duty deaths of three police officers intended to raise support for police as individuals rather than faceless authority figures.
The message of the film is simple and powerful.
Every 54 hours, a cop dies a violent death somewhere in the United States, and civilians may not remember police are also fathers, Sunday school teachers and Little League coaches.
“It’s unfortunate that it takes the events in Boston and west Texas to remind people who first responders are and which way they’re running when everyone’s running out,” D’Onofrio told the sold-out auditorium. “It’s not something civilians think of every day until something like this happens.”
D’Onofrio has been doing volunteer promotion work with police departments around the nation since his days as a police officer on television’s “Law and Order: Criminal Intent.” During filming of “Heroes Behind the Badge,” D’Onofrio approached the film’s producer and director and asked if he could do the narration, for which he refused any kind of payment.
The film sprung from director Wayne Derrick’s mind after he spent four months riding along with the Los Angeles Police Department. Derrick, a BAFTA-winning British director, had a son born only recently, and the fear he felt made him reconsider the nature of police work.
“I remember climbing up rooftops with these guys and thinking, ‘What am I doing? What’s going to happen to my son if I don’t survive here?’” Derrick said. “Then I thought, these guys do this every day of their lives, and they have kids, too. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of that, so I wanted to make a film to show it.”
Pleasant Grove’s police department came in full force; nearly every officer not responding to a call was in the high school’s auditorium. Officer Dane Cannavo of the Pleasant Grove Police Department said the police love the good relations from what is an occasionally hostile public.
“I think the public has a misrepresentation of officers,” Cannavo said. “A lot of people give a lot of thanks to the troops, and my heart goes out to the troops, but I don’t think a lot of people realize that we as officers are the domestic soldiers. They just see the bad guy giving the ticket.”
The national tour promoting the documentary asks for civilians to at least thank a police officer and at most donate to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which produced the film. John Shanks, director of law enforcement relations for the fund, said the documentary and tour have increased community involvement and donations.
“It has a definite impact,” Shanks said. “People just aren’t aware of ways they can donate some money, so there’s been a lot more money coming in. We see a lot of people volunteering more and expressing appreciation for law enforcement.”
During the public questions session with D’Onofrio, a teenage girl stood up and thanked him for “showing [her] that cops aren’t the bad guys and I shouldn’t hate them like young people do.”
The screening was coordinated by Pleasant Grove’s Honorary Colonels, a volunteer group who support the police department and had a lucky connection to D’Onofrio — one of the members is his sister.
“She was our in,” said Sherri Atwood, a communications tech for the Pleasant Grove Police Department. “The date worked well for him, and directly after the Boston bombing, it’s pretty apropos.”