Crime + Punishment: Lame title, potent muckraker. Stephen Maing’s documentary revolves around the so-called NYPD12 — a dozen current and former cops who, with some guidance, came forward to say their commanders are still, years after quotas were outlawed, pushing for a set number of arrests. That means, as several cops point out, that you don’t go onto the street looking to help people, to be a positive force in communities (especially communities of color). You go out looking to arrest people, because if you don’t, you don’t get promoted — or, worse, you get marked for dismissal. Complain to higher-ups and retaliation is swift and definitive. The highest-ups continue to cite CompStat and the discredited policy of “broken windows” policing.
Maing shot the film himself and hovers over the furtive meetings between cops and lawyers. He plays some creepy hidden-mic recordings and captures a scene — from a spooky distance — in which one of the 12 is descended on by a patrol car, the cops emerging to tell their fellow policeman he’s out of uniform because he’s wearing a hat, which you can only do if the temperature is below 32. He says it was 32 when he put it on, and they say it’s expected to be 38 — and write him up. Stuff like that goes on all the time. Edwin Raymond, a black cop with dreadlocks who scored in the top ten on the sergeant’s exam, reads with dismay a report citing him for having, in essence, a low IQ. He marvels at the grammar and spelling errors.
The breakout star of Crime + Punishment is Manuel “Manny” Gomez, the decorated Afghanistan vet who had a rocky relationship with the NYPD and became a private eye. Beefy, voluble, a theatrically New York character, he takes a call from Pedro Hernandez, who spent a year in Rikers on charges of firing a gun into a crowd — charges plainly trumped up, allegedly by a detective with three times the average number of arrests. After Gomez trudges through the streets finding witnesses who swear they saw someone else fire the gun, the Bronx D.A. drops the case. But the fight is ongoing. Recently, the New York Post ran stories demonizing Gomez and lauding the alleged “monster” detective who arrested Hernandez.
Crime + Punishment makes you angry and scared in equal measure. What it doesn’t do is illuminate the sources of this evil. What about the majority of cops who know the 12 are right but shun them anyway? Would you trust them if they stopped you on the street?
*This article appears in the August 20, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!