Summit County cop inspires film ‘End of Watch’
September 21, 2012
Starting every shift as a rookie cop on the violent streets of Los Angeles, Jamie FitzSimons faced the possibility that he might not make it home to his family.
But he didn’t do it alone.
He shared a squad car and an understanding with his partner, Darryn Dupree.
“We’d get in the car together … and you go over certain things,” said FitzSimons, now a captain with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. “You acknowledge the most important thing is that we go home at the end of watch. No matter what, we go home.”
That promise and the still-strong friendship between FitzSimons and Dupree were the inspiration for director David Ayer’s “End of Watch,” a film that pushes past the violence of traditional cop dramas to tell a story about the human beings behind the badges.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, secretly filming their daily lives patrolling South Central L.A.
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“It’s not what you’re expecting,” Ayers said of the film, which opens today. “It’s a cop-action movie set in L.A., but it’s about two regular guys, good guys.”
Ayers, a longtime friend of FitzSimons, said it was the stories that he shared of his experiences as a young officer working gangs for LAPD that first inspired the script.
FitzSimons moved to Summit County eight years ago in search of a safer, more peaceful life for his family, but returned to Los Angeles last summer to help produce and take a supporting role in the film.
End of Watch brought him back to the ghetto where he’d faced years of violence, but in many ways, FitzSimons said assisting with the movie was a healing experience.
“It’s really been a project of passion,” he said. “Now it can live in a movie and it doesn’t have to live in my mind.”
Ayers spins FitzSimons’ stories from the 1990s into a modern context, after the democratization of movie-making and acknowledging the changes in street dynamics in L.A. over the last 20 years.
But the film itself is steeped in honesty – presented at times through the lens of a camera held by Gyllenhaal’s character – and meticulously accurate in both the depiction of the brotherhood that develops between police officers and the jobs they do day-to-day.
“The most interesting things to watch and the most interesting things to play always come from a sense of truth,” Gyllenhaal said.
The actors spent months ahead of a 21-day movie shoot learning the logistics of law enforcement – from how to handle weapons to the interactions between cops inside the patrol car. FitzSimons used that time to guide them through their characters’ frame of mind as they portrayed moments from his own life.
“Jaime was instrumental,” Pena said. “He opened up to us about how he felt while he was doing it, which added this whole crazy layer of reality.”
FitzSimons said his children and, often his wife, never knew the horrific details of his job. Like flipping a switch, he transitioned daily between the violence he saw on the streets and the normalcy of his home life.
“People don’t realize what cops go through every day and then go home, and then go back to the violence,” he said. “It’s a little bit different than our service men and women who get deployed for a year or two at a time.”
At the same time, law-enforcement officers aren’t always seen as heroes among civilians.
“End of Watch” attempts to deconstruct the stigma that surrounds police officers and pay respect to the real people who wear the uniform.
“It shows the human side of cops,” FitzSimons said.
For him and Dupree, the violence and danger they faced daily forged a bond between them that has lasted a lifetime. Twenty years ago they swore to protect one another’s families if one of them didn’t make it home. Today, though FitzSimons moved to Colorado nearly a decade ago and Dupree remained with LAPD, the two men talk weekly and remain close friends.