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In 1952 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Col. Francis C. Grevemberg is offered the position of superintendent of state police. Apprehensive at tackling the reform of what the Kefauver Committee deemed "the most crime-ridden state in the Union," Francis seeks guidance from Rev. Dr. J. D. Grey, head of the local citizens' commission, Father Masters, a parish priest, Richard R. Foster, the first president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, and Aaron M. Kohn, an ex-FBI agent. Each urges Francis to call upon his war-hero background and accept the burden of leadership. One meeting takes place at the restaurant owned by Francis' high school sweetheart, Pat Noble, who deflects attention away from her tablemate, mobster Joseph Kosta, in order to camouflage her connection to Kosta. At home, Francis discusses the superintendent position with his wife Dorothy, and although he points out that he will make little money and be forced to contend with dirty politicians, she convinces him to accept. As his first targets, Francis names narcotics, prostitution and organized gambling. Over the next few weeks, he also attends to reform on a local level, arresting and firing dishonest deputies and sheriffs. He stops traffic cops from speaking disrespectfully to drivers; prevents a sheriff from striking a young boy; and arrests policemen drinking on duty, distressing local law enforcement officials. Meanwhile, Francis also galvanizes his senior staff, announcing that he plans to run the office as he would a military outfit. He institutes policies to re-train state troopers and names a new vice squad, and although his men are respectful, many, including Major Al Arthur, are clearly unimpressed. After the meeting, Francis questions Al, who reveals that many superintendents have declared ambitious programs, only to fold under the pressure of local fraud. Undeterred by Al's skepticism, Francis appoints him his special assistant. The vice squad targets the Aragon gambling club, but when they arrive to raid it that night, manager DeButts has been forewarned. Hours later, a second attempt is more successful, but crooked sheriff Lloyd fines the offenders only twenty dollars and sends them home. After Francis confronts Lloyd, Lloyd and DeButts complain to Kosta about the new superintendent, and Kosta observse that any man can be bought. Accordingly, DeButts visits Francis with a thick roll of cash, but Francis throws him out, prompting DeButts to state that Francis is "no cop, just a damn citizen." Soon, Dorothy receives threatening phone calls at home, but rather than worrying Francis by mentioning the threats, she merely asks him to spend the weekend with her and their twin sons at their country home. As soon as Francis leaves town, Al meets with DeButts, who offers $1,000 per week if he will provide inside information about police raids. In return, Al insists that DeButts reveal who warned him about the first raid, after which Debutts reveals that the informant was Lt. Palmer. On Monday, Al tells Francis about the conversation with DeButts. Inspired by Al's clever espionage, Francis plans with Al to trap Palmer by organizing a mass raid but telling only the lieutenants assigned to each specific gambling club; that way, when the raid on Palmer's assigned club, the Aragon, fails, Francis will be able to fire Palmer. As part of the ploy, trooper Paul Musso is also fired for taking bribes, and as Francis has guessed, Palmer takes Paul into his confidence. Soon after, Kosta bribes lawyers and judges to reject all of Francis' recent arrests as lacking sufficient evidence. This damages morale among the policemen, but Francis vows to continue raiding casinos until the customers stop patronizing them. Kosta then instructs his men to use all means possible to discredit Francis, and soon, corrupt state senators and judges declare publicly that Francis is overstepping his bounds. Francis, however, continues his attacks, aided by Paul's inside information about Kosta's operation, which encompasses gambling, prostitution and narcotics. Just as Paul is warning Francis that Kosta is adamant about destroying him, Dorothy discovers that someone has brutally killed their dog and placed it in the sleeping boys's bed. Francis immediately moves the family to a guarded house near his office. Later, Al advises Francis that although they now have almost enough evidence to indict the mob, Kosta's machinations have resulted in a proposed bill to limit the power of state police. At Kohn's recommendation, Francis decides to use the upcoming subcommittee meeting about the bill to his advantage by presenting his evidence there and asking the committee members to hold a public hearing. Meanwhile, Francis has Kosta's tax records checked, and the consequent tax bill forces Kosta to plan a profitable heroin shipment. When Paul notifies Francis, Palmer becomes suspicious, and soon after, Francis discovers Paul's murdered body in his car. The heroin raid, during which Palmer is killed, is successful, but there is still not sufficient evidence to link Kosta to the narcotics. Kosta presses Pat to invite Francis to a party the next evening, where he attempts to frame Francis by photographing him in the presence of a scantily clad woman. Francis, however, deduces the scheme and knocks out the photographer before he can shoot. In private, Kosta then offers Francis $200,000 not to attend the upcoming hearing, and before leaving in disgust, Francis reveals that he has taped the conversation. At the hearing, the tapes, combined with the other evidence, convince the committee that not only should Kosta be arrested, but the state police should be allowed to maintain their authority. Francis retains his position as superintendent, now firmly established as the man who "gave the state back to the people of Louisiana."