"This is not about being anti-cop," Crime + Punishment director Stephen Maing says from his home in Brooklyn. "If you watch the movie, you know that's a ridiculous claim."
Now available on Hulu, Crime + Punishment exposes how a quota system has forced New York police officers to issue a minimum number of arrests or summonses each month (20, in the case of the summonses). The movie earned Maing a special jury prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival for Social Impact.
Maybe the idea of having police officers completing a minimum number of arrests sounds all right. No one wants law enforcement officers loafing when a city is ravaged by crime, right?
Crime + Punishment, however, documents several incidents where the system led to a series of collars that wasted officers' time and sent innocent people to city jails. The "broken windows" policies of former commissioner Bill Bratton led to heightened distrust between the New York Police Department and the people they were sworn to protect.
In short, quantifying arrests can be an inaccurate way of measuring a police officer's effectiveness.
It's also illegal.
The state Legislature in Albany banned the practice in 2010, but Crime + Punishment features clips of supervisors admonishing cops on the street to meet their illegal targets.
"It's totally reasonable for managers in workforces to need ways to track worker productivity. Nobody wants a lazy employee. The kind of performance standards you might put on a real estate agent, like you have to sell one home and five rentals a month to keep your desk," Maing explains.
"When officers start basing their actions and their use of discretion by a need to produce a certain amount of summonses and arrests, you have a kind of dangerous situation where the social contract starts to erode and with it goes the trust in law enforcement. We find ourselves looking at this divide with policing and race, and we're scratching our heads wondering why is this happening."
TALKS THE MEN DOWN
To illustrate the point, Crime + Punishment follows Detective Derick Waller as he prevents an assault by getting people arguing outside a convenience story from using their firsts or weapons. He talks the men down from their anger, which is good policing but doesn't register numerically.
"There has long been no measurement for acts of de-escalation or community building or helping somebody change a flat tire. Those sort of benevolent policing actions that are not based on sort of criminal summonsing of the public have had no role in officer evaluations.
"The department in the recent year implemented an expanded performance measurement criteria, but what we're hearing on the ground is like even though there are 26 new categories for officer performance, what people are still saying is that it comes down to your numbers."
THE NOT-SO-DIRTY DOZEN
Waller is a member of the NYPD 12, a group of a dozen black and Hispanic officers who have exposed the illegal quota system and have publicly refused to follow it. As a result, they've been denied promotions and punished for speaking out. Many have served the city for decades and have had their careers stifled.
"These are guys who joined the force because they grew up in minority neighborhoods and as minorities saw their communities ravaged by crime," Maing says. "But they also saw a real breakdown in police and community relations unfold in their childhoods and in their young adult lives and felt that they could make a difference and improve that.
"These are cops the department should absolutely celebrate because when they are on the job people respect them, they admire them to the point of people wanting to give them hugs and high fives."
In the case of Sandy Gonzales, who was the first officer in the 12 to cooperate with Maing on Crime + Punishment, the film features a sequence where his supervisors send Gonzales on a foot patrol to a desolate stretch of the Big Apple where no criminals (or anyone else) seem to be.
Maing says that the citizens of New York may have suffered for what appears to be the department trying to silence Gonzales.
"I watched his entire 8½ hour shift on that corner," Maing says, "disallowed from addressing any crime conditions that were unfolding in the nearby area of the precinct. His radio was going off. We don't sit with that for his entire shift fortunately for viewers' patience, but there were definitely calls coming into the precinct that day."
TALE OF THE TAPE
Gonzales and other officers provided audio (featured in the film) that proves the allegations, and Maing also followed the NYPD 12 as they launched a lawsuit to end the quota system.
"New York State is a one-party consent state," Maing says. "Only one person present even in a surreptitious recording needs to be aware of the recording taking place. I can't take credit for all the recordings that appear in this film. These are cops who were making use of that strategy long before I came around. The only situations where I helped officers do recordings where they had already expressed an intent and desire to do so and did not yet have the tools or the knowledge."
Maing says, however, that he didn't set out to lionize the 12 or their allies. For example, he spends much of the movie following a private investigator named Manny Gomez who specializes in exposing all of the bogus arrests the quotas encouraged. One client hands Gomez a stack of records for dubious arrests that's as thick as a Bible. Not one arrest led to a conviction.
But with another client, Pedro Hernandez, who spends a year in New York's Rikers Island jail for a crime he didn't commit, Maing shows Gomez on camera answering questions on a police complaint phone line that Hernandez should be answering himself.
"I work extra hard to vet the subjects I embed with. The filmmaker-subject relationship can be very tricky because there are two people involved in a situation where each person wants something out of the other. One is telling the story, and the other wants someone to propagandize their story," Maing says. "I had to look at the flaws of Manny Gomez, for example. People involved in the movement and within the film ask me, 'Why did you include that scene?' If I didn't show that, I would be making him more saintly than he is."
MAKES COST SEEM TANGIBLE
Nonetheless, Hernandez's time in Rikers Island makes the cost of the quota seem tangible, even if the young man is, spoiler alert, now free.
"He got a full college scholarship while he was in Rikers (Island) passing the GED and applying to colleges and also getting other imprisoned young men to put aside their differences and sit down for the GED as well," Maing says. "Studying could be a way of improving your situation in life. It's so incredible to me that he didn't get an apology. There [were] no reparations. All the court system did was say, 'You're free to go.'
"One of the detectives involved in (Pedro's) falsified arrest was an individual who allegedly made three times his quota of arrests... we know he was promoted to detective from officer, and he has millions of dollars in settlement claims against him, not to mention sexual harassment claims and was put on modified duty because of pending litigation against him."
A SPECIAL PERSPECTIVE
Maing's other documentaries include High Tech, Low Life, which follows two Chinese citizen journalists who record stories the state media won't cover, and Surrender, which recounts how Stephen Kim, a State Department analyst, was indicted for disclosing classified information to a reporter. He has also worked as an editor on Chappell's Show.
A native of New York, Maing is the son of immigrants from North and South Korea. Asked if this has influenced his films and the subjects he explores, he says, "I think every person that comes to a story brings something of their background and their identity to the telling of that story.
"Up close, I watched the kinds of trauma that inform the immigrant experience. I feel like that relationship to their experience and to their kind of adversity is kind of what fuels my interest generally in human narratives and storytelling around social issues."
MovieStyle on 09/07/2018
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