Great Television Made In Brooklyn

‘The Shift’ returns: True crime on television

I doubt the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association brags about this, but the one benefit of our city’s ever-increasing murder rate is that the Investigation Discovery channel can’t bring itself to leave town.

In 2008, its cameras came here for what was expected to be one season – approximately eight episodes – of The Shift, a series documenting the “elite” IMPD homicide detectives who work 2-10 p.m. But the stories and the police themselves proved to be so compelling that we’re now going into the third season, which begins Wednesday.

This season has some terrific episodes that chronicle high-profile cases like the murder of Fountain Square jeweler David Pedigo (the season-opening story), as well as under-reported incidents that include the death of Debbie Reid. Did she fall down the stairs or was she pushed? The outcome will surprise you.

If anything, The Shift has gotten better over time, especially compared with all the fictional crime shows that take up space up and down the television dial. The crimes are horrific, of course, because these are real people whose lives have been snuffed out, but what we see is the reality of police work. That is, it’s painstakingly slow and difficult, the cases often don’t end neatly and they can take a long time to solve.

Also, while the police are good, sometimes they’re just damn lucky. Take the case of Ousmane Gueye, who came to America from Senegal in search of a better life. One night in January, a man with a gun burst into the West 16th Street gas station where Gueye was working. A struggle ensued and Gueye ended up being shot to death.

The surveillance footage was grainy and police had no leads. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the distraught gunman confessed. “I wasn’t planning on going hunting,” the shooter, Victor Williams, told police. Watching him break down in front of the detectives is far more emotionally powerful than anything you’ll see on any CSI or Law & Order.

That’s the draw of The Shift. It’s not as exciting as the fictional crime dramas, perhaps, but it’s definitely more interesting and unquestionably more important.

Speaking of important footage, that’s what inmate Omar Broadway hoped to deliver when he made his self-titled documentary, which premieres next week on HBO2. Broadway, with the help of a friendly guard, was able to get a camera into New Jersey’s Northern State Prison in 2004 and take surreptitious video for about six months. He hoped to expose brutal prison conditions in the unit reserved for gang leaders, which is where he was housed.

But An Omar Broadway Film falls well short of the mark. We see inmates being beaten and dragged, but there’s no context. What did they do? And given that Broadway was shooting through the door of his cell, what don’t we see?

Yes, prison is brutal – no surprise there. When you and another person are locked in a room the size of a bathroom 23 hours a day, when you’re being fed for $1.30 a day, when you’re allowed a shower once every three days, life is ugly.

But my reaction to Broadway’s 90-minute documentary is that while nobody deserves to be beaten, nobody deserved to be the victim of Omar Broadway’s crime – carjacking a cab with a sawed-off shotgun. And if you’re resourceful enough to get a camera and cell phone into prison, you ought to be resourceful enough to stay out of prison. Or at least smart enough not to antagonize guards who have nightsticks and mace at their disposal.