The idea of “backing the Blue” has become a flashpoint in our culture over the past few years. On one side, you have people who believe that, while there are many good cops, the policing system itself is fundamentally broken and in need of change. On the other, you have people who are willing to give cops near endless leeway because, after all, they potentially put their lives on the line daily. The documentary I Got a Monster deserves to be seen by everybody who wants to be a part of this conversation. It’s a gripping film that takes viewers deep inside one of the biggest police-related scandals of our time.
The setting is Baltimore, Maryland. A crooked cop named Wayne Jenkins ran a unit known as the Gun Trace Task Force. For roughly five years, they terrorized Black citizens of the city, pulling them over and planting drugs or weapons if none were found in their vehicles. Worse, they would also rob the people they stopped. Jenkins and crew stole any drugs they came across, then gave them to an intermediary to sell for profit. Knowing one man had a safe with thousands of dollars in it, they even stooped so low as to break into his home, pry the safe open, and swipe the cash.
Hearing the details of their crimes is horrifying. Jenkins had a reputation as a go-getter cop, a fact he used to cover up his actions. By producing the arrest numbers Baltimore PD wanted, he maintained an invincible quality. Who would suspect the supercop would be doing something underhanded?
There were real repercussions to the Gun Trace Task Force’s actions. I Got a Monster interviews a number of the innocent individuals who found themselves either behind bars or left with ruined reputations as a result. Their tales are heartbreaking, especially that of a man who was surrounded by Jenkins’s plain-clothed crew, thought he was being carjacked, and raced off down the street, colliding with another vehicle at an intersection and killing the other driver. Who’s really responsible for that man’s death? For sure, only one person lives with it on a day-to-day basis.
The hero of the picture is Ivan Bates, a defense attorney who took many of the cases of citizens affected by Jenkins and his cohorts. He eventually put the pieces together, working to take down the task force. Bates also appears on-camera to talk about the impact of these dirty cops and how he gathered evidence against them. FBI agents and other authorities who played a part in exposing the injustice provide accounts, too. What becomes clear is that an entire system was in place to protect police officers like those on the Gun Trace Task Force. An interview subject astutely points out that, by design, if you don’t believe the police, then your whole sense of right and wrong gets thrown out of whack. Jenkins took advantage of that.
Directed by Kevin Abrams, I Got a Monster moves like a rocket, keeping you captivated with the in-depth way it explores what happened in Baltimore and what it means. You walk away with a sense of how power can be exploited, as well as how easy it is for a few dishonest cops to manipulate the very structure that gives them authority. The film is as challenging as it is important.
out of four
I Got a Monster is unrated, but contains adult language and mature content. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.