Director Stephen Maing’s new documentary Crime + Punishment follows a group of twelve New York City police officers – NYPD12 – that dared to blow the whistle on the NYPD’s illegal practice of pressuring their officers to meet monthly quotas for arrests and summonses.
From 2014 to 2017 we follow the gathering together of the twelve in the filing of a class action lawsuit against the police department for violating the state ban on monthly enforcement activity quotas for police officers. This ban, in place since 2010, makes it illegal to require an officer to achieve a certain number (a quota) of tickets, summonses and arrests in any given month.
Director Stephen Maing’s new documentary Crime + Punishment follows the NYPD12, a group of twelve New York City police officers that dared to blow the whistle on the insidious corruption rampant in the New York City police department. From 2014 to 2017 we follow the gathering together of the twelve in the filing of a claim against the police department for breaking the state ban on monthly quotas for police officers, a ban that makes it illegal to require an officer to achieve a certain number of summonses and arrests in any given month.
The pressure to meet these quotas is high as every aspect of an officer’s career can be affected. The quotas also create an atmosphere of «us vs. them» in the officers daily police work. Officers are encouraged to treat citizens as criminals rather than as the people that they are bound to help and protect, and if they do not comply with these quotas they are punished and retaliated against. Performance monitoring, evaluations and unfair work assignments are some of the methods used as weapons of abuse towards the officers.
Using blacks to generate revenue
Quotas for police officer activity are rampant throughout cities in the US. In 2015 This American Life did a story called «Inconvenience Store» on Earl Sampson who, beginning in 2008, was regularly stopped and harassed once per week over a four-year period by police officers and arrested over 60 times, mostly while at work at his convenience store job in Miami Gardens, Florida. The abuse only stopped when his employer took footage from 15 video cameras he had installed around the store to the press.
As Edwin Raymond, one of the NYPD12, succinctly states: «Law enforcement uses black bodies to generate revenue.» And indeed this abuse is more often towards low-income Black and Latino communities.
Crime + Punishment combines majestic, sweeping shots of the New York landscape with intimate shots of the characters and raw footage shot on phones or with undercover cameras.
Clandestine tape recordings of conversations between officers are used, all to illustrate the point that even though the police department claims there is no quota system, there is definitely pressure on the officers to meet quotas, and punishment when these quotas are not met or resistance is shown by the officers.
The film is straightforward and the characters are well spoken, both the NYPD12 and their circle of supporters as well as the citizens, the victims of the police department’s continuous harassment. These are most often young boys between the ages of 14 and 21 – easy targets.
Pedro spends one year in Rikers Island Jail, as his family cannot post the $250,000 bail.
Pedro Hernandez, who has no criminal record, was arrested many times with every charge being dismissed at trial. The latest is a charge of possession and use of a deadly weapon, to which Pedro claims innocence. However, Pedro spends one year in Rikers Island Jail, as his family cannot post the $250,000 bail. He is 17 and trying to finish high school in prison.
The officer that is responsible for this and other arrests of Pedro is promoted to detective, after regularly having three times over average quota numbers during the course of his career.
The Hernandez family is an example of the larger trauma and emotional distress perpetrated on these communities at large. Though charges are dropped against the victims due to lack of evidence, the constant harassment and arrests take their toll. Pedro’s mother Jessica says, «every time they’re arresting this kid, they’re messing up his life.»
Continuing trauma and abuse
It is scary to watch two teenagers look at a passing police car suspiciously, worried that the officers are looking at them. It’s the second or third time the car has passed by in the last while, they’ve got to move of the street.
People are being terrorised in their own streets, homes and workplaces by the people paid to protect them.
People, especially young men, are being terrorised in their own streets, homes and workplaces by the people paid to protect them. These realities should be impossible, but in these neighbourhoods in the US they are everyday occurrences.
Crime + Punishment steadfastly follows the NYPD12’s fight to get the system changed. However, it seems that the conspiracy is so high up the food chain of the department and the state that it is an impossible goal. Though the film ends mostly on notes of success and hope, the NYPD12 are still being punished for their outspokenness and the larger problem has not been addressed. And there is no tangible sign that this problem is anywhere close to being solved.