Professor’s documentary, ‘Peace Officer,’ wins two awards at SXSW Film Festival

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“Peace Officer,” a documentary directed, shot and produced by St. Edward’s University professor Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber, took home the Grand Jury Award and the Audience Award during its premiere week at the SXSW Film Festival.

The compelling documentary is about the militarization of police in America, specifically in rural Utah, where Christopherson and Barber are originally from. “Peace Officer” is captivating and could not be more timely, with increasing mass media coverage of cases of police brutality.

“Peace Officer” is centered around William “Dub” Lawrence, a former police officer and sheriff who founded Utah’s first SWAT unit in 1975. 33 years later, Lawrence’s son-in-law was killed by a display of excessive force from the same SWAT team.

Lawrence has become obsessed with trying to understand the events leading up to his son-in-law’s death, and in the process, has made it his mission to help others who believe their family members may have been victims of police militarization and brutality. The documentary displays Lawrence’s thorough investigations, in which he often finds evidence that the police had previously missed.

But the documentary also included interviews with police officers in a successful attempt to display both sides of the story: “Peace Officer” tackles the issue of police militarization by giving the officers themselves a chance to explain why their jobs place them in situations that don’t always end the way they might hope.

Even with balanced representation, “Peace Officer” undeniably tells a story about the increasing militarization of police and how it is affecting communities all over the country. In many of the cases in the documentary, it is easy to see, at least through a civilian perspective, how many situations could have been averted or handled with less force.

“Peace Officer” presents an important question that seems to be often overlooked: at the end of the day, when an instance of police brutality or an escalated situation arises as a result of police militarization, what is the police trying to protect civilians from?

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