‘We Own This City’: How Wayne Jenkins Got His Start

The Wire creator David Simon’s latest HBO series, We Own This City, is set in a post- Freddie Gray Baltimore. The series follows a massive scandal in 2017 involving the Baltimore Police Department’s (BPD) Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF). Their ring-leader was Sgt. Wayne Jenkins (Jon Bernthal).

Here’s how Jenkins got his start.

Jon Bernthal as Wayne Jenkins hunching over in a bullet proof vest in 'We Own This City'
Jon Bernthal as Wayne Jenkins in ‘We Own This City’ | HBO

‘We Own This City’ follows one of the biggest scandals in the Baltimore Police Department

We Own This City is based on the true story of the 2017 scandal involving the BPD’s Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF). Led by Wayne Jenkins over the course of several years, the officers stole from Baltimore residents and the city.

“At the time of the GTTF scandal in 2017, though there were numerous indications of corruption within several plainclothes units going back almost a decade, Baltimore police commanders held to the belief that any street unit that could bring in guns and drugs consistently had to be championed and protected,” HBO said in a statement. “WE OWN THIS CITY depicts the inevitable corruption of a unit given this carte blanche.”

In 2021, Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton published a book titled, We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption. The series gets its title from the book.

How did Wayne Jenkins get his start in the BPD?

Episode two, which is titled “Part Two,” chronicles Jenkins’ start in the BPD. Jenkins got his start in the force as a beat cop. Instead of using the de-escalation and cultural sensitivity methods that he’d learned in the academy, his training officer Ed Barber taught him to arrest without cause, especially in what was deemed “high crime areas,” since it would make the higher-ups happy, make statistics look better, and increase the opportunity for overtime pay.

Jenkins’ lessons from Barber fed his ego. He quickly began spiraling out of control, using his position within the community and eventually in the BPD to line his pockets with dirty money and feel above the law.

What happened to Wayne Jenkins in real life?

According to TIME Magazine, when it was all said and done, Jenkins and the GTTF stole at least $300,000. Their robberies included 43 pounds of marijuana, 800 grams of heroin, three kilos of cocaine, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry. 

Jenkins pled guilty to charges of racketeering, robbery, and falsifying records. In the end, he received a 25-year-prison sentence that he is currently serving out. Bernthal was able to speak with him for the role in the series.

“The aftershocks of the GTTF scandal continue to be felt to this day,” a 2016 Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation states. “Officers not directly associated with the GTTF have been charged and convicted in connection with events that occurred more than a decade ago. It took decades for the cancer of corruption revealed in the GTTF scandal to spread as widely as it did and to sink its roots so deeply into BPD; it will take years for BPD to demonstrate, in both words and deeds, that it has zero-tolerance for corruption and misconduct.”

RELATED: ‘We Own This City’: Release Date and Time, Episode Count, Cast, and More