Season 10 of Chicago P.D. is putting Kevin Atwater (LaRoyce Hawkins) in the spotlight unlike ever before. As the show has progressed, we’ve watched him transform from a quiet storm to a top contender as he fights to prove himself as a detective. But his position comes under question in episode 6 after his actions during a tense arrest are called into question, which leaves a seemingly innocent, and white, suspect dead. The team must dig in to uncover key evidence that could aid in the ongoing investigation and clear Atwater’s name.

Ahead of the Nov. 2 episode, Shadow and Act spoke with Hawkins about how the episode sets the tone for a domino effect of what’s to come for Atwater and how his previous questions about police mishandling return. He also discusses how the show can be used as a blueprint for future policing.

S&A: When you first got the script for this specific storyline, what were your initial thoughts, and were you worried at all that it would impact Atwater's future?

LH: To be honest with you, as I was reading the script, I had a hard time not calling Ike Smith, who wrote it, and being like, ‘Big Bro, what’s going on?’ It started off so dope, and then it got so dark – blood and everything. But I knew it would be a story that set the tone for Atwater and his leadership capabilities. It was one of the stories that I knew was going to set up how his response would be a direct reflection of how he’s built. Does he deserve to be a detective, or does he not? Can he show his unit and his sergeant that he deserves that new title that’s open, or is it his decision-making skills not ready yet? This was one of those episodes that I knew was going to be the start of a series of episodes along the way this season regarding whether he deserves that badge or not.

I think that’s a goal of his – to serve and protect at a high level. And that’s something that you have to earn. That’s not something that you just get because somebody left. And so now it’s your turn. You have to prove yourself. So I appreciate the episode for that challenge. And as an actor and as an artist, it did the same thing. It had these moments that can feel like tracks if you’re not careful. The character can come off [as] almost a little too self-righteous if you’re not able to exemplify the vulnerability that it takes to make your yes a yes. It’s hard and difficult. They don’t look that easy. It was a lot of that. So I was very, very grateful for this episode.

I knew it was going to grow me at the end of the day. Directed by Bethany Rooney, who we love and respect– she’s over 250 episodes deep within her career. So her leadership was, I think, needed on the episode. As big as this, I repeat that I think this is some of Ike Smith’s best work, and I was just grateful to be able to grow through it. And it set me up because I think every big water episode that we see for every big play that we run around him is going to feel a little bit bigger. There’s going to get a little darker, and everyone is going to inform the next. And by the end of the season, hopefully, you have a new batch to go with. 

S&A: It’s interesting because it's not necessarily the first time Atwater has struggled. Last season, your character questioned whether or not the police were handling cases with a center on race with a heightened sensitivity. And now your character finds himself in a hot water situation as well. What is your take on the contrast? Because you spoke a little bit about the self-righteousness that Atwater has possessed at times. And you already spoke a little bit about how you feel like it will impact his career and him earning that title moving forward.

LH: I think this is a little bit different because it kind of reverses a narrative that we’ve kind of been conditioned. We almost nullify by the young Black kids being taken from the blue police system. I think Atwater is the perfect person to kind of be in that hot seat. It’s unfortunate and extremely sad, but he also wants to do his best and try as hard as he could to keep everything as composed as possible. And everything still went wrong. We still lost lives. 

And I know what I struggle with sometimes on this show, even as an artist and as a storyteller, is what’s most important, solving crimes and saving lives. In this case, we lose a lot of lives, but we do cybercrime. But what I’ve learned over time is that I think the way that we write in the way that we storytelling isn’t for right now as much as it’s for the future. That’s why we have to be careful with the way we reimagine policing and with the way we televise the reformation of policing because the critics who we know are used to a certain thing. And so they’re going to have a perspective that’s almost built in. 

I just dropped my son off at school a couple of days ago, and I walked my way up to his classroom and all his classmates. I know they thought I was about to arrest. It’s cute and as funny and, at the same time, not. 

They’ll watch it. But right now, they’re almost too young to really get it. But this stuff is going to be off eventually. And by the time they see the reruns years from now, they will see an example of what the Reformation can feel like. If we write against the conditioning that we’re used to, and I think as a team, from the writers to directors to the artists and the whole crew, that’s our challenge– to continue to train the storyteller for the future and not just for now. Because if we know anything about Dick Wolf, it’s that he’s going to be around forever. So we might as well.

S&A: And you spoke about how that the show is basically kind of like art imitating life, or in some ways, it's sort of redefining what the future can look like in terms of police interaction and what policing looks like. How do you feel that this specific episode and the events that transpire after either mirrors what's happening or can correct what's happening?

LH: Atwater did a very noble thing at the end of the episode, when he walked back up to the chair of his house, and he has an interaction with the mother and he fills in gaps of what happened. I think he knows exactly how to fire the feels and doesn’t expect to change his mind. I think the father, in a lot of ways, represents some of us who have this built-in perspective about things. And I say that generally, but there are some of us who do need answers, and there are moments where we can fill in gaps. And I think that’s the very human part about our nature, is that this can happen to anybody. It doesn’t just happen to Black parents. It doesn’t just happen to white parents. This can happen to anybody on any level. And the only thing that can really shift our experience is the empathy we provide and the love that we add to it. 

And so, if I can give you a real reference, once upon a time, I was arrested and detained unnecessarily. I was thrown in a paddy wagon because I was running away from a crime scene that I didn’t know anything about. Thank God my little brother’s friend was able to identify me as Lamar’s big brother. Now there’s an offender on the loose, and they got the wrong guy. But I was detained for about 3 or 4 hours, when I was simply supposed to be taking out the garbage. So the only thing I asked the officer to do was to walk me to my mama’s door and let her know where I went, where it happened, then know that I was OK and that they made a mistake. And he looked me in the eye and told me that he would. He went back to his car to grab paperwork, made a U-turn, and didn’t come back. 

So for me, as I approach the last scene of that episode, I wanted to do my best to make sure that I didn’t reflect the example that I was given at that moment. But the example of nobility and integrity. To take my pride aside and put myself in a position, a very human position to say, ‘We ain’t perfect. Mistakes were made. But you raised a good boy. You don’t have anything to worry about.’ And that helps the parent. Every parent deserves that. Every kid deserves that closure. I didn’t get it that night. But on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on NBC, I think parents around the nation will be able to see an example of what it feels like.