According to the New York City Police Department, officer quotas for arrests and summonses have been banned since 2010. Supervisors have denied that there are quotas; the onetime commissioner had denied that there are quotas. Yet in 2015, a small group of cops filed a class-action lawsuit against the department and the city for the retaliation they experienced after poor performance reviews that were based on the officers’ “numbers.”
In “Crime + Punishment,” Stephen Maing’s documentary about the development of the suit, one of the plaintiffs gets specific about the problem: “Law enforcement uses black bodies to generate revenue.”
The NYPD 12, as the suing officers became known, are all minorities who were told to go after minorities for easy stats: Hispanics and, especially, African Americans. “You must stop black people from 14-21,” one boss told his underling after an unsatisfactory review.
The more attention the group received, including an interview with NBC, the more passionate the opposition became, such as former Commissioner William Bratton crowing instead about the lower crime rates New York had been experiencing, an especial irony considering all the officers chastised for not being more “proactive.”
One of these officers is now-Sgt. Edwin Raymond. Raymond’s narrative becomes the focus of the film after Maing confusingly hops between a few others. A sterling officer, he had been repeatedly refused a promotion even though he scored eighth out of 6,000 on a test given to aspiring sergeants. One of Raymond’s reviews noted several weaknesses he knew he didn’t have. But the unspoken reason was that he didn’t arrest or issue summonses frequently enough. So he became the face of the lawsuit, telling everybody who would listen that if a promotion meant he was unable to instigate systemic change in the NYPD, he was just fine in his current position, thanks.
“Crime + Punishment” is essential viewing for anyone with a suspicion that there’s corruption in law enforcement. “New York City is Ferguson [Missouri] on steroids,” one of the litigants says. Backing this up is footage of the funeral of Eric Garner, an African-American man who died after having been put in a chokehold by a police officer while being arrested for selling individual cigarettes. Regardless of Garner saying several times that he couldn’t breathe and an ambulance eventually being called, no one performed CPR on him. He died at a hospital a short while later.
It takes only this one story of an unnecessary death — and many, many others about the retaliation the suing officers faced for not dragging in enough innocent black kids — to feel the NYPD 12’s fury. Some of it would be difficult to believe if there weren’t hidden cameras recording the goings-on, such as when Officer Sandy Gonzales, after already being reassigned to foot patrol in an area where there’s little activity, is told that he’s going to be written up for being out of uniform for wearing a hat on a cold winter day. (They can wear hats only when it’s 32 or below. Gonzales protests that it was 32 that morning. “It’s supposed to be 38 today,” the supervisor says.)
The 12 are shown meeting with lawyers and community activists, all of whom back them up while, you sense, being afraid of what the lawsuit will mean for their futures. But none of them seem to care. They’re incensed, and they’re ready to do something about it.
Unlike movies about the big game, we don’t find out what happens in the officers’ story; the suit is still being litigated. But the evidence is irrefutable. As a lawyer who fights for the wrongly accused says, “It’s blatant, and it’s disgusting. It really is.”