Crime + Punishment

by Mary Alice McMillan

Photo Sourced from Sundance Institute

Stephen Maing’s Crime + Punishment is a brow-raising, blood-boiling, and deeply intriguing documentary about the brave officers of the NYPD who have spoken out against the department’s illegal policing quotas. The film follows twelve officers, named the NYPD Twelve, who joined together and went public to affect change within the department.

In addition to the members of the NYPD 12, Maing’s film introduces us to Manny Gomez, a private investigator who spends night and day garnering support from local teens who have been wrongfully accused due to the quota system. We watch him fight for Pedro Hernandez’s release from prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more clear that the policing practices within the city affect a tremendous number of black and brown lives.

Unlike many highly stylized documentaries, this film uses hidden cameras, audio recordings, and “run and gun” interviews to reveal the stakes of the story being told. Though it should be noted that the cinematography in this film is, at times, breathtakingly beautiful and moving. The whistleblowers featured in Crime + Punishment each have their own families and careers to think about, but still risk their own livelihoods to expose the racist and unjust practices of the New York Police Department. In one scene, we watch from behind a nearby car as one of the NYPD Twelve is reprimanded for wearing a warm hat on a cold day because it isn’t up to “code.” We also see several of the officers placed in areas without a car as punishment for not reaching their policing quotas. These petty actions by the department reinforce the idea that the NYPD wants to break the spirits of these whistleblowers.

Similarly, there are many moments throughout the film where these police officers are scheduled to talk to their superiors about their unsatisfactory performance (because they refuse to target minority members of the community in order to reach an arbitrary quota set by the department) while wearing a hidden camera and mic. In these moments, we hear the most provocative and revealing proof that, even though the NYPD officially banned quotas in 2010, they still enforce these practices within many of their precincts. The documenting of the NYPD Twelve’s brave actions propels the story forward in a way that simple interviews could not.

This film is particularly effective because it doesn’t feel like a reprimand to society. Rather, Maing uses many clever techniques to allow the audience to experience the hypocrisy of the NYPD’s racist practices. He allows the audience to draw its own conclusions. The ending of the film doesn’t wrap up the issues in a pretty bow to provide closure for those watching. In fact, it is apparent that this film was created to inform and inspire change within communities across the United States. The audience is left with the realization that there are no easy answers to fix the countless problems within the criminal justice system, but that apathy will only breed more injustice.


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