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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

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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