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Thursday, January 10th, 2019

Documentary Review: Crime + Punishment details fight against illegal policing quotas

Police account­abil­i­ty and crim­i­nal jus­tice reform have right­ful­ly been the top­ic of much con­cern and debate over the last few years.

One aspect of the com­plex web of issues in this vein, par­tic­u­lar­ly in New York City, is police quo­tas lead­ing to dis­pro­por­tion­ate arrests and cita­tions of peo­ple of col­or, often on unsub­stan­ti­at­ed charges that are lat­er dropped.

Crime + Pun­ish­ment is a doc­u­men­tary that exam­ines this issue in New York City from the per­spec­tive of New York City Police Depart­ment offi­cers who dis­agree with this sys­tem and have faced con­se­quences for refus­ing to par­tic­i­pate, and then, for speak­ing out against it publicly.

The film screened at the Seat­tle Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val in 2018 as well as many oth­er fes­ti­vals through­out the coun­try, win­ning awards at Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, Green­wich Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, and the Inde­pen­dent Film Fes­ti­val of Boston, among oth­ers. It is also on the short­list of semi­fi­nal­ists in the Best Doc­u­men­tary cat­e­go­ry for the Acad­e­my Awards, com­mon­ly referred to as the Oscars, for which the final nom­i­nees will be announced on Jan­u­ary 22.

The NYPD is the largest police force in the coun­try, with over 36,000 uni­formed offi­cers. Quo­tas, or tar­gets for num­bers of peo­ple arrest­ed or giv­en a crim­i­nal cita­tion that offi­cers are expect­ed to meet, have been offi­cial­ly banned since 2010. In prac­tice, they have con­tin­ued unabat­ed, many offi­cers say.

Sandy Gon­za­les is one of those officers.

Crime + Punishment: A Hulu Documentary

Crime + Pun­ish­ment
Release Year: 2018
Direc­tor: Stephen Maing
Run­ning Time: 1h 52min
Watch trail­er

Gon­za­les, a twelve-year vet­er­an of the NYPD, has been get­ting in trou­ble for not meet­ing quo­tas. His lieu­tenant told him “you need to catch up with every­body else.”

Gon­za­les talked with a few oth­er offi­cers about suing the depart­ment for still hav­ing quo­tas, and for tar­get­ing and harass­ing offi­cers that refuse to com­ply with them.

Gon­za­les got reas­signed from his patrol car to a foot post, and was told to stay in the same loca­tion all day.

“It’s like putting a kid in time­out, for oth­er cops to see me as an exam­ple,” he said. Part­way through the day, his sergeant pulled up to check on him, and then wrote him up for being out of uni­form; Gon­za­les wore his NYPD win­ter hat, but offi­cers are only sup­posed to wear it on days that it is below freez­ing, and it was not quite that cold on the day that Gon­za­les had stay out­side stand­ing in one spot for hours.

At the Lati­no Offi­cers Asso­ci­a­tion Head­quar­ters, the pres­i­dent talked about the plan to pur­sue a class action law­suit. He also told offi­cers plan­ning to par­tic­i­pate in the law­suit to “make sure you are wear­ing your [bul­let proof] vest all the time now,” in antic­i­pa­tion of the retal­i­a­tion that could take place against offi­cers for speak­ing out.

Manuel Gomez is for­mer Army Intel­li­gence offi­cer and mem­ber of the NYPD who is now a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor. He says he was pushed out of the NYPD for “refus­ing to keep his mouth shut” about all the cor­rupt things he saw.

He now works with cit­i­zens to expose quotas.

He talks with young black and Lati­no men who have been vic­tims of “stop and frisk” and have been arrest­ed mul­ti­ple times on charges that have all been dismissed.

Gomez explains to peo­ple how to make com­plaints through the NYPD sys­tem about unfair arrests, even help­ing some to nav­i­gate the auto­mat­ed phone line and leave a voice mes­sage. He also works with peo­ple, such as Pedro Her­nan­dez, who are being held in cus­tody while await­ing trial.

Her­nan­dez was being held on Rik­ers Island, with bail set at $250,000, for a shoot­ing he did not com­mit. His moth­er hired Gomez to help prove his inno­cence and get him out. Pros­e­cu­tors kept delay­ing his tri­al. They offered him mul­ti­ple plea deals, but Her­nan­dez declined, main­tain­ing his innocence.

The offi­cer that arrest­ed Her­nan­dez for the shoot­ing reg­u­lar­ly exceeds quo­tas, and is known in the neigh­bor­hood for tar­get­ing var­i­ous young men in the community.

He had pre­vi­ous­ly arrest­ed Her­nan­dez six times before, all charges that could not hold up and were lat­er dismissed.

Gomez was even­tu­al­ly able to find video that showed the shoot­ing Her­nan­dez was charged with, and it is clear in the video that he was not the shooter.

How­ev­er, Her­nan­dez spent over a year in jail before the Dis­trict Attor­ney final­ly dis­missed the charges against him.

It is this type of injus­tice, the tar­get­ed harass­ment of young men of col­or, that led mul­ti­ple offi­cers to file their law­suit in March of 2015. These offi­cers are peo­ple of col­or them­selves, who were uncom­fort­able car­ry­ing out racist, ille­gal pol­i­cy, and were then retal­i­at­ed against by the depart­ment for not complying.

One of the oth­er offi­cers par­tic­i­pat­ing in the suit was Feli­cia White­ly, who had been on the job nine years. In a con­ver­sa­tion with the film­mak­er about Eric Gar­ner, who was killed when an NYPD offi­cer used a banned choke-hold on him dur­ing an arrest for sell­ing loose cig­a­rettes, White­ly explained the con­nec­tion, not­ing: “Eric Gar­ner was killed because cops are chas­ing for activ­i­ty to meet the quota.”

Peo­ple are arrest­ed for minor offens­es, or offens­es they did­n’t even com­mit, just so that the offi­cer can meet their quotas.

The offi­cers who filed the law­suit were dubbed the “NYPD 12” when they did their first tele­vi­sion inter­view. But with the added atten­tion to their law­suit, the offi­cers faced even more retal­i­a­tion. Whit­ley had the over­time she had been work­ing tak­en away. Anoth­er offi­cer was giv­en a fal­si­fied and neg­a­tive eval­u­a­tion. Anoth­er was split from work­ing with his reg­u­lar part­ner and put on mid­night shifts.

The City of New York filed a motion to dis­miss the law­suit, and the police com­mis­sion­er denied that a quo­ta sys­tem was being used. Unfor­tu­nate­ly some of the parts of the law­suit were dis­missed, with an expla­na­tion that the court did not have juris­dic­tion. At the time the film was com­plet­ed, the law­suit was still in limbo.

A quick search turned up a few arti­cles that men­tioned the case is still ongo­ing. A class action law­suit filed by peo­ple who had been unfair­ly charged was set­tled in 2017, how­ev­er, and part of that set­tle­ment required the NYPD to send notice to all offi­cers that quo­tas are banned. In ear­ly 2018, the com­mis­sion­er fol­lowed that up with an addi­tion­al on-line train­ing about the quo­ta ban that all offi­cers had to take.

But as mem­bers of the NYPD 12 state in the film, the offi­cial state­ments and mem­os don’t real­ly mat­ter if lieu­tenants and oth­er precinct lead­ers are still enforc­ing quo­tas in prac­tice, which there is incen­tive to do since over $900 mil­lion of the city bud­get comes from rev­enue from arrests and sum­mons­es. As Edwin Ray­mond of the NYPD 12 said, “law enforce­ment uses black bod­ies to gen­er­ate revenue.”

Like most oth­er police and crim­i­nal jus­tice reforms, it seems this issue might, unfor­tu­nate­ly, take some time to be solved, while peo­ple of col­or con­tin­ue to unfair­ly suf­fer the con­se­quences. The team at NPI strong­ly rec­om­mends watch­ing Crime + Pun­ish­ment to learn more about this crit­i­cal issue.

The film is avail­able for on demand screen­ing at Hulu, for which there is a link on the film’s web­site, as well as a list­ing of oth­er screen­ings through­out the coun­try (but note that this list does not seem to be total­ly up to date, as it cur­rent­ly lists as show­ing at the AMC Pacif­ic Place in Seat­tle, but on the AMC web­site there are no show­times list­ed at any Seat­tle-area theaters).

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