'The Seven Five' (R)

In a time of intense new scrutiny of police practices and tactics around the country, the documentary The Seven Five shows just how wrong these public servants in blue can go when the circumstances are right.

A new film about a notorious New York Police Department precinct and its “most corrupt cop ever,” The Seven Five takes us back to the ’80s crack cocaine epidemic, where the drugs and money were easy temptations for weak links in “the thin blue line” that separates society from criminal anarchy.

And while it would be a mistake to conflate Tiller Russell’s film with the incidents that brought national attention to policing today, here’s a movie that does a very good job of explaining where many a misdeed by someone with a badge comes from, a vocation that has become a culture and law unto itself.

The very definition of “good cop” is the center of it all. Whatever it means to the public, to elected and judicial officials, to the NYPD of this post-Serpico era, it meant “never giving up another cop.”

Michael Dowd was the head of a corrupt ring of cops in Brooklyn’s embattled 75th Precinct, where poverty and despair, murder and addiction were already endemic. Dowd, discovering the easy money available, robbed, burgled, took payoffs from drug dealers and eventually ran  his own drug distribution operation with his partner, Kenny Eurell. They made a bad place much worse.

Russell’s film uses archival footage of Dowd testifying before a corruption commission, TV newscasts of the day and modern interviews with dirty cops, DEA agents sold out by those dirty cops and the Internal Affairs officers slow to get the goods on these guys.

The film allows these middle-aged men to swagger and brag, one last time, about their exploits, to rationalize their behavior way back then. Russell only sketches in the background of these men who apparently never absorbed basic tenets of right and wrong, either from the police academy or their parents. But their slippery slope was a simple one — overwhelmed by a tidal wave of drugs and crimes in the most violent precinct in New York, “you feel under-appreciated as well as overwhelmed.”

In a neighborhood “that would scare Clint Eastwood,” they found a way to not just get by, but to thrive — by stealing and working for the people they were supposed to arrest.

Although well told, it’s an over familiar story, and a sad one. And being far enough removed from the issues that have police in the spotlight post-Ferguson, The Seven Five also feels a little dated. Remember when all we had to worry about was cops going on the take?

With: Michael Dowd, Kenny Eurell, Adam Diaz, Baron Perez, Dori Eurell.

Director: Tiller Russell.

An IFC Films release. Running time: 102 minutes. Vulgar language, grisly crime scene photos, drug content. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford Cinema.