“My foremost goal as a filmmaker is to continue to tell impactful stories that shed a positive light on the law enforcement community,” says filmmaker Jason Harney. He’s been a movie buff for as long as he can remember. But that didn’t stop him from enjoying a full career at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department—as an FTO, detective, field training sergeant, among many roles there.
In the 1990s he started, as he puts it, “hanging around the LVMPD Video Unit,” eventually helping to make recruitment videos. Upon retirement he jumped full-time into film production with his own company, Lightning Digital Entertainment.
“I had the honor of working for what I believe is one of the finest police departments in the country, while observing countless people do exemplary work, but rarely recognized,” he says. “I produce films about the stories and issues that would otherwise go untold.” His gripping documentary “The Wounded Blue” tells just such stories: It chronicles the challenges and triumphs of six police officers injured in the line of duty as part of a larger effort to fix a what we come to realize is a very broken system.
How It All Started
The impetus behind the project came from a fellow officer at LVMPD, Lt. Randy Sutton, a well-known figure to the law enforcement community through his appearances on COPS in the 1990s, several books published, and role as spokesperson for Blue Lives Matter.
“The final straw, for me,” says Sutton, “came from a young guy in South Dakota who’d been a terrible fight—both arms ripped out of the sockets, his head smashed. The department took away a third of his pay and his wife had to quit her job to take care of him. They couldn’t feed their kids. They were relying on bake sales to make it through. I knew then we had to do something.”
That’s when he launched The Wounded Blue, a national nonprofit peer-support network for police, enlisting Harney to tell the story.
“I knew Randy from my time at LVMPD and we had lunch,” says Harney. “Because of his voice in the law enforcement community and his story, he was constantly contacted by officers who had been injured in the line of duty. He was passionate about helping these officers who had been left behind.”
For Sutton, this is personal: “I had a stroke in my police car after 34 years on the job, right there on the Las Vegas Strip. It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me, and I’ve seen some scary shit. My department didn’t want to pay, even though they knew had to legally. I had to go to court and, after a year, I won. But they nearly ruined me inside of that year. So I got a taste of it. They hope you’re either going to die or give up.”
Included in the documentary is the story of Calibre Press instructor Officer Ann Carrizales, who was shot in the face and chest during a traffic stop in 2013. To hear Carrizales and the other officers profiled in this important documentary, in their own words, and without judgement, is startling. These are the stories, and lives, the headlines have left behind, stories of unbelievable pain, strength, and inspiration.
“Police officers are killing themselves faster than the bad guys are,” says Carrizales. “People need to understand why. This documentary, and the people in it–myself included–have been in those dark places, feeling isolated, completely alone, and have had to navigate through it. I vow to be a voice for the thousands of men and women in blue who are there right now. I want them to know: You are not alone. There is help out there for you.”
“I can’t watch it without crying,” says Sutton.
Many people, including police officers, have no idea that an on-the-job injury could destroy life as they know it. Particularly for those in larger departments and those with strong union representation, this might seem impossible. But the documentary makes clear: It’s actually quite common.
“Many officers are fired when they’re unable to come back to full duty after one year,” says Harney. “Others are thrust into a workers comp system designed to work against them. They lose their income and end up selling their homes and cars and struggle to put food on the table for their kids.
“Many officers said that if you’re shot and subsequently killed in the line of duty, departments will pull out all the stops to ensure your family is taken care of,” he says. “Survive that same shooting, and you are likely left with both the trauma that comes from healing, as well as the fight against PTSD, severe financial ruin, divorce, and the possibility of suicide.”
The aim of Wounded Blue is to ensure this doesn’t happen. In the past four months, the initiative has provided nearly 1,000 peer supports nationally to injured officers.
The nonprofit aims to be self-sustaining. “We get donations from cops and citizens,” says Sutton. “I hear all the time from people who aren’t cops who support us and want to show their support. This is a program they can get behind. Honestly, I think it’s great for police-community relations.”
And a riveting way to learn more about this effort is to watch Harney’s documentary.
“The Wounded Blue” was released on March 15th and is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and the Microsoft Store. Likewise, if you are a current or former law enforcement officer looking for peer support, visit www.TheWoundedBlue.org or The Wounded Blue Facebook page to find it.
Their motto is, Never forgotten, never alone. Watch this powerful documentary to understand precisely why.