Flint Town is a documentary about the Flint Police Department. The series is eight episodes of about 45 minutes each. It is not a feelgood, good guy vs bad guys story, nor does it follow a case from crime to conviction. It is a gritty drama of a faltering police department in a failing city. The story follows the department for about a year from November 2015 through December 2016. It shows the changes and attitudes through the eyes of several Flint cops. It has the background of the Flint water crisis and the 2016 Presidential race, but that is really ancillary to the story.
What Flint is going through is a crime crisis exacerbated by a financial crisis. As the series begins the current state of the department is outlined and the description is dire. Manpower in the Flint Police Department has been reduced from 300 to 98 due to budget cuts. The radio is in backlog all day. The salaries of the officers are terrible and is leading to poor morale. Starting salaries are less than $20/hour and many cops don’t break $50k a year. Most cops are looking to leave if another opportunity arises. The City itself is dying. Flint had long been listed as one of the most dangerous cities with a population over 100,000. The City resolved that moniker by losing almost 20 percent of its population in the ten years before the documentary begins. Now Flint is one of the most dangerous cities with a population over 50,000.
This depressing story is told through the eyes and thoughts of several members of the department. The embattled Chief, Tim Johnson, plays a role in describing his vision and obstacles, but it is the men and women on patrol that show the essence of policing in Flint. The narrative of Patrol Sergeant Robert Frost shows the difficulty of dealing with understaffed patrol for years. It’s a depressing story. Burnout, callousness, and simply being overworked are major themes. Frost points out that, “There’s no real policing when you’re taking that many calls, you’re just driving to addresses like the UPS man.” Newer officer Bridgette Balasko shows the motivation of younger officers and how reality soon disperses thoughts of making a difference. Other members of the department are profiled to show the different points of view but the overwhelming violence that surrounds these people on a daily basis is pervasive. The series also gives some attention to the home lives of some of these officers. Shows how the job effects them and the low pay makes it difficult to get by.
As the series progresses, Chief Johnson tries to get a handle on crime, but the officers are drowning in work. With the morale and staffing issues, it is difficult to keep your head above water, let alone start new anti-crime initiatives. The feeling of futility pervades the department despite Johnson’s powerful presence. Fights with politicians, the community, and general anti-police sentiment are all obstacles outlined in the series and show the management perspective.
In coming from a large department with a substantial budget, it is hard to imagine trying to improve the community with such scant resources. As depressing as police work can be sometimes, I couldn’t imagine trying to overcome some of the obstacles that the Flint Police Department faces. It is a testament to the men and women of the Flint PD that they show up everyday and get the job done.
Flint Town is a Netflix original production. It can be found exclusively on that platform. It is well worth the investment in time to binge watch the entire series. It will take you about 6 hours to get through, but it will really give you a great perspective on the challenges facing many police officers today.