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Abstract

This Article questions whether a nexus exists between Breaking Bad, the popular series that regularly depicts strategic police deception, and the systemic abuse of force infecting the actual police department featured on that show. First, it focuses on investigative “strategic police deception” depicted in Breaking Bad as a potential gateway to the unreasonable use of force. The recent transgressions perpetrated by the APD evidence this concern. The show demonstrates the multi-faceted complexities of such police practices—from questionable discretionary decisions and psychological coercion, to deliberate deception and outright lies. Much of the policing depicted on Breaking Bad passes technical legal muster, though illegal police activity also occurs. Therefore, this section analyzes both constitutionally permissible and impermissible police actions. Next, this Article discusses the recent excessive force allegations against the APD. The comprehensive federal investigation reveals a violent, antagonistic, and unflattering image of the Albuquerque Police. The investigation found that officers use much higher levels of force, including deadly force, than is reasonable in encounters with Albuquerque residents. Officers also use physical force that is disproportionate to any possible threat against the officer. In some situations, officers shock residents repeatedly with Tasers, even when unprovoked, which needlessly increases the risk of death or serious bodily injury. Additionally, multiple deficiencies within the department contribute to some officers’ habitual reliance on excessive force, most notably the lack of oversight and virtual absence of internal and external accountability. Finally, this Article highlights the internal workings of the APD and the community of Albuquerque during the occurrence of these particular allegations. Because research has recognized the dual role of television as both entertainer and educator, and because the airing of Breaking Bad shares a timeline with the egregious behavior of some APD officers, the Article considers whether the deception and subterfuge highlighted in Breaking Bad escaped the world of entertainment and entered the actual city of Albuquerque. The Article alternatively examines the social and situational behaviors within the APD, and how officers may have succumbed to such variables. It evaluates studies of patternistic human behavior indicating that environmental situations, rather than intrinsic personal traits, often dictate the expression and severity of aggressive behavior. In that respect, Walt’s journey from family man to narcotics despot is not unlike the APD’s submission to postures of hostility and antagonism. Though perhaps a fantastic notion, and possibly subject to more correlative than causative circumstances, the inquiry is provocative and poignant: did Breaking Bad instigate the rise in reckless, “shoot first” policies within the APD, ultimately leading the department to “break bad”?

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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