‘We Own This City’: Jon Bernthal Was Embedded With the Police for 3 Months

The Wire creator David Simon and co-creator George Pelecanos recently debuted their newest HBO limited series, We Own This City. While The Wire examined the state of policing in Baltimore in the early 2000s, this six-episode series examines modern-day policing and what happens when it gets out of line.

In the series, Jon Bernthal portrays Sgt. Wayne Jenkins embedded himself with the Baltimore Police Department for three months before filming began.

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’ is based on a true story

Based on the true story that broke in 2017 of scandal in the Baltimore Police Departments, Gun Trace Task Force, We Own This City, is a riveting story of several officers who became worse than some of the criminals themselves.

“WE OWN THIS CITY shows how the department’s desperate reliance on statistics over substance eventually led to the inability of department officials to supervise the Gun Trace Task Force and the further inability of the department to discipline rogue police,” HBO said in a statement. “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. WE OWN THIS CITY depicts the inevitable corruption of a unit given this carte blanche.”

Jon Bernthal was embedded into the Baltimore Police Department for three months

Bernthal was determined to learn the ends and outs of policing in Baltimore when portraying the notorious Sargent. Therefore, he got to know the officers around Jenkins, and he also took part in three months of ride-along rides in every district.

“A lot of those plain-clothed flex unit squads have been disbanded, but a lot of the guys from the Gun Trace Task Force, they’re still working,” he told Salon. “A lot of their careers have been completely upended because of their proximity to Wayne. There’s a few guys in particular – Tony Maggio and Sergeant Nagavich and Keith Galliano – guys that I got to know really, really well, who still police in that sort of similar way.” He added,

They’re all guys that are from the community. They grew up in the community. I believe they’re policing for the right reasons, but they still police. They still, in their terms, police aggressively. I really wanted to understand what that meant. I think when you police aggressively, you lead to a lot of fourth amendment violations, period. It’s like, if you’re out there, you’re not waiting for the crime to happen. You’re going there and you’re trying to take the fight to the criminals. Just the idea of that, it’s an us versus them mentality, which oftentimes is a fertile field for tragedy and trauma. And unfortunately, in Wayne’s case, it was a fertile field for corruption.

Jon Bernthal shared his thoughts about policing

The Punisher actor called We Own This City a dream project.  “Wayne is a good example where I’m all the way in, and I have no shame in that,” the actor told The Guardian. Still, he said the role also gave him a bird’s eye view into modern-day policing. He shared some ideas about why things aren’t going smoothly, especially in inner cities and communities of color.

“The police need to have culpability for their actions,” he said. “What I hear from police officers is that the biggest problem with policing is there’s been this culture of refusing to admit you’re wrong, standing by each other, not pointing out flaws. I think that we have burst through that.”

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