Precinct Seven Five


Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

Precinct Seven Fivee
"There is a great story here and Russell tells it in detail from multiple perspectives and with numerous forms of documentation."

A tale of police corruption so brazen that it would be taken as farfetched if presented as fiction, Precinct Seven Five (aka The Seven Five) details the corruption that grew out of the New York Police Department's 75th Precinct during the 1980s. The nefarious deeds and abuses of power that film concentrates on began at the instigation of Officer Michael Dowd, who would eventually move into the distribution of narcotics with a neighbourhood drug lord. Tiller Russell's documentary presents the tale through a combination of talking heads footage - of Dowd, his former partner Kenny Eurell, their police and criminal associates, and those law enforcement officers who were investigating in their wake - reconstruction, news footage, and original surveillance footage.

At the time, parts of East New York resembled a war zone as the rise of cocaine wreaked havoc and crime spiralled out of control. Within that context, the Seven Five was the deadliest precinct in New York in terms of the murder rate and number of police shootings - a set of circumstances that caused police officers to form close bonds with each other in the name of survival. Those officers who did not automatically back up the actions of their fellow cops risked being deserted in an hour of need on the streets. Nonetheless in 1986 a ring of corrupt cops from the nearby 77th Precinct were busted. As rumours swirled that the Seven Five would be next, many of Dowd's allies there resigned in order to avoid exposure - Dowd gambled that the department would be looking to avoid further scandal and stayed on. He then proceeded to ever up the ante in terms of his criminal activities.

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At the centre of the film is the relationship between Dowd and Eurell - a ying and yang combination of whom one of their criminal partners observes that as Dowd grew increasingly out of control in the early 1990s, it was the calmer Eurell who effectively enabled him to function. Being aware of Dowd's reputation, Eurell originally avoided him (he now says that he regrets ever meeting him) when he joined the precinct but they were made formal partners in June 1987, when Dowd then set about turning the younger man around to his way of thinking. It is no spoiler to say that they were eventually caught (why else would they be talking on the record about what they got up to?), but it is an effective tactic for Russell not to reveal how it ended until late in the film because the bond between the two men is still self-evident today despite the destruction of their friendship.

What is slightly more questionable is giving Dowd a platform for his self-justifications. He is unrepentant and retells the saga with glee and manic exuberance - these are stories he has clearly told many times over and they now have all the embellishments of a full-blown performance. Some of the men interviewed revel in their own grandiosity (only one of their former associates sits in shadow - the rest are happy to show their faces as they tell their tales) and the film effectively colludes with that attitude to a degree by playing in to the notion of them as 'colourful characters'.

The reality is that they were violent drug traffickers who destroyed lives with their product and dragged a neighbourhood into a downward spiral - something that only Eurell seems to see with clarity, ascribing their actions to greed.

There is a great story here and Russell tells it in detail from multiple perspectives and with numerous forms of documentation. But although Dowd's self-justifications are ultimately undermined by the facts (and his own voice on tape), the film might have felt less of a glorification of the man (who seems to have been begrudgingly 'liked' even by some of the law enforcement officers who eventually brought him down) if his assertions had been challenged in person on camera. The film is nonetheless engrossing viewing.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2015
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The real-life story of dirty cops who worked alongside brutal drugs gangs in New York in the 1980s.
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Read more Precinct Seven Five reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ***

Director: Tiller Russell

Starring: Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw, Chuckie, Dori Eurell

Year: 2014

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


DOC NYC 2014
EIFF 2015

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