Hitting theater screens in select cities this weekend is “The Force,” Peter Nicks’ award-winning and provocative documentary that provides an unflinching look at the embattled Oakland Police Department (OPD). For over two years, Nicks and his film crew were embedded with the department, who at their core was trying to rebuild its image of corruption and scandal during fiery moments of political and social upheaval.

OPD, Federally mandated reform, community unrest

As many may know from news and media reports, the Oakland Police Department has been federally mandated to institute reforms after a corruption scandal in 2000.

The film kicks off in November 2014, and the reforms and policies that OPD Chief of Police Sean Whent has instituted seem to be taking root. Viewers get glimpses into recruit training, often led by Deputy Chief Leronne Armstrong and community liaison Ben McBride. This training includes learning about past policing mistakes, not drawing your weapon immediately and working with the community.

There are tense moments during ride-alongs as officers roll up on criminal acts or when officers stand guard during political Black Lives Matter protests that rage in Oakland after Ferguson. But with continual teaching moments from the top, reform seems to be working. Police shootings decrease, as do community complaints.

Police shootings and sex scandal

But in mid- to late-2015, the reform bubble bursts. There are police shootings with armed suspects that rock the community. Then in 2016, a sex scandal comes to light. The community and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf are understandably infuriated. Nicks does well in recording these moments of outrage and confusion.

(Nicks had to scramble for the shoots as his film was well into post-production during these surprising revelations.)

Nicks’ goal in examining the police and the communities they serve

“The Force” is the second in a planned trilogy of documentaries that examine public institutions and communities. Nicks’ first documentary, the critically acclaimed “The Waiting Room,” is about a day in the life of an Oakland public hospital; the third will focus on education.

As Nicks explains in his film’s production notes, “My intent with ‘The Force’ is to reframe people’s perceptions of both an urban police department and the community that they serve.” The director certainly achieves his intent, probably way above his expectations.

With its cinema vérité style, “The Force” engages as it documents the OPD successes, and there are successes. But it also doesn’t shy away from the bombshells that will again encompass the OPD in 2016 - 2017. With a lens into all sides of policing and politics, as well as the very clear reasons for the community’s continued mistrust, “The Force” is a documentary of immediacy.

“The Force” is 93 minutes, not rated and opened in select theaters September 22.