The movie Crown Vic opens with an alarm blaring at a bank in downtown Los Angeles — two men in body armor trade gunfire with the police in a scene reminiscent of the legendary 1997 shootout in North Hollywood, and in the aftermath, manage to escape into the gritty streets of Los Angeles.
That night, LAPD veteran Ray Mandel prepares for his patrol shift behind the wheel of a Crown Vic, during which he’ll be training Nick Holland, who is seeing his first action as a cop and is looking to outrun the long shadow cast by his legendary LAPD father. As they patrol, the department on high alert with two cop killers out in the wind, Nick quickly learns about life as a patrol cop in a city that will dazzle you with its beauty one moment, then penetrate your world with an act of brutality in the next.
Where police prowl the streets at night while the rest of us sleep, unaware of the nocturnal battles between good and evil that allow us to live unaffected by the brutality and disorder. To Ray, the Crown Vic is home. A place where things make sense. But he also knows that at his age the department is trying to force him out, an inevitability he must face but is unprepared for. As they make their way through the dangers of the night, a welfare check on the widow of Ray’s former partner reveals she is back on drugs and her little girl has disappeared.
To add to his problems, Ray must contend with over-amped bipolar speed freak cop Jack Van Zandt and his sycophantic partner Stroke Adams on the loose in his patrol zone looking to violently settle a score with a suspect who is back out on the streets. Ray finds out where the girl is being kept and decides to go off the grid to get her, the idealistic Nick knowing they will both be hung out to dry, but a defiant Ray says it was his partner’s daughter, and Nick hesitantly goes along.
Ray finds the girl, killing the drug dealer in cold blood and returns her to her grandmother. Nick is shaken in the aftermath and confronts Ray, who confesses that the little girl is in fact his daughter, the result of an affair he had with his partner’s wife. Nick is startled by Ray’s hypocrisy, and Ray tells him there’s the kind of cop you want to be when you’re young and the kind of cop you end up being. Nick realizes he and Ray are two sides of the same coin, that Nick is like Ray when he started out and that Ray is what Nick could end up being in 30 years. As their shift ends, Nick attempts his first solo action, a routine traffic stop as Ray observes.
As the exchange with the driver gets heated we realize the two men in the car are the cop killers the police have been hunting all night. Gunfire and chaos erupt and Nick finds himself with a gun to his head, only to be saved by Ray. Ray and Nick return to the motor pool, where their night began. Ray expresses to Nick what he believes it truly means to be a cop, leaving Nick to ponder the devastating night he just experienced.