Charting the history of policing in America, the new documentary "Power" is rooted in questions: Who exactly are the police meant to serve? And whose interests are they protecting?

Director Yance Ford centers the movie on personal inquiry and curiosity. The core missions of police to protect property and control populations are often at odds with public safety and community concerns. Though the doc, which begins streaming on Netflix Thursday, does not provide easy answers, it does point in the direction of what could be done to make relations between police and citizens less oppositional.

"This film is a tool for people who do this work," said the 52-year-old who spoke on Zoom from Toronto. "I hoped that it would be something that people who work to reimagine our definition of public safety can use."

Q: The film begins with the statement: "This film requires curiosity, or at least suspicion." Can you expand on that?

A: I put that at the top of the film because I know that this subject of policing is one where the current debate has been Black Lives Matter [or] Blue Lives Matter. Whenever policing is brought up as an "issue," there are folks who will think that a documentary will be a polemic against the police or that a documentary will be something that reinforces their own analysis of policing. And what I wanted to do was invite the audience, regardless of where they sit in relation to this issue, to come to the film as they are. I don't assume that you're going to trust me if you're suspicious. I want you to watch the film anyway. I understand that you might be curious to learn the information in this film because you're predisposed to being interested, and that predisposition is also fine. I recognize all of that and I'd like you to engage with the film anyway.

Q: One of the most surprising characters in the film is Charlie Adams, the Minneapolis police officer working to reform policing from within the institution itself. How did you come to find Adams?

A: We researched a lot of different police officers, police commanders, police chiefs around the country who were doing work in their departments. And Charlie Adams rose to a place on the list that was interesting to us because he is in Minneapolis and he's been doing work for a long time trying to help his officers at the 4th Precinct understand the perspective of the community and the people who live in the community in which they serve.

Charlie Adams is a great character because he is someone who you see has good intentions, but he's also someone who is restricted by the contours of the institution in which he works. There are aspects of the criminal legal system that limit the effectiveness of what he can do. I think that Charlie Adams tries to do what he can, but then when you see this thing where he butts up against the reality of policing, that helps you understand that it has to be about more than individual chiefs or individual officers.

When we think about what keeps communities safe, we can't fall into this trap of talking about the behavior of individuals or to try another round of reforms that come from policing out into the community. We really have to approach it in a different way and about solutions that come from communities to police, and think about institutional reform or reimagine a different institution.

I think that's one of the things that being with Inspector Adams really shows is that there's a really powerful institution behind every individual officer. And it's the institution that needs to be addressed.

Q: Why did you choose to call the film "Power" as opposed to simply calling it "Police"?

A: Because they're synonyms — they are one and the same. Police are the power of the state made real. You and I and other people, some more so than you and I, will interact with police way more often than they will interact with their elected representative or senator. So in terms of how the government and the state is made manifest in people's lives, the answer to that is police. When you think about who is the most powerful person, like [journalist] Wes Lowery says, in this country, on a day-to-day basis, it's police for most people. And so I wanted to just be really clear about the lens through which the film is going to look at police and policing.

And it's also just a great title, if I do say so myself. It tells you what you're going to see. When you buy a ticket to a film called "Power," you've got a sense of what you're in for.