Police corruption exposed in new documentary

The Crime + Punishment screening began, like most school-sponsored events, with a 30-minute reception that included a small spread of refreshments. The real treat, however, came for those who stayed for a talkback with the director, Stephen Maing.

The audience sat in somber silence as they watched the lives of a group of city police officers, known as the NYPD 12, as they attempted to take legal action against the Police Department for imposing under-the-table-arrest quotas that every officer was expected to meet, or face retribution.

The practice, they claimed, was not only against a 2010 state law that forbid quotas, it also unfairly targeted young black and Latino men, who are five times as likely to be arrested than their white counterparts.

Edwin Raymond, an officer who cannot get a promotion because he refuses to follow the quota system even though he has one of the highest scores on the sergeant’s exam in the city, emerged as one of the stars of the documentary. “Something like this that disenfranchises black folks even more,” he said, on the quotas, “it’s horrible.”

A second plot within the film shows the effect of this policy by following private investigator Manuel Gomez as he works on the case of Pedro Hernandez, a Bronx teen who was arrested and imprisoned on false charges for shooting into a crowd and hitting another kid with a stray bullet.

There were a couple of light moments in the otherwise extremely serious documentary. The most notable of which occurred when an officer involved in the case, Felicia Whitely, followed her daughter to prom in a tender moment of mothering. Aside from that, the audience watched in rapt silence as the officers received retribution from their supervisors and endured stress-related health issues due to their battle with the goliath that is the NYPD.

The documentary wrapped up in a bittersweet way. Hernandez is freed from Rikers Island and Bill Bratton, the chief of police, retires. But the NYPD 12 case is dismissed — leaving the officers to continue the fight through appeals.

One happy moment was the graduation ceremony where Officer Raymond finally received a promotion to  sergeant—a callback to the opening of the movie, which showed the police cadet graduation ceremony.

Professor Ricardo Miranda got the discussion started from the stage and asked about Hernandez.

“He’s finally able to just get on with his life,” Maing said. But, there was “no apology, no repercussions” for the police department.

Maing filmed a 15-minute video for The National, and met the officers during that process. The chance to tell their story was one he couldn’t miss.  

“Here was an opportunity where active duty NYPD minority cops were saying ‘you can film,’” said Maing.

He does not fear retribution for the film, as some other filmmakers might. “I think all too often filmmakers trump up the amount of risk they’re exposed to,” he said. Maing, however, did not deny that he felt anxiety over it, but said he felt safer once he knew the film would receive a high-profile release (it is available for viewing on Hulu).

As for the impact of the film, it is too soon to tell. “I don’t really see a true public impact moment happening yet,” said Maing. “And I’m trying to figure out why.”

The NYPD 12 case has stalled somewhat after being thrown out on a technicality that has prevented the group from bringing their evidence into court, and even some individual cases from the officers have been dismissed.

The Q and A ended with Maing urging people to come to police headquarters (1 Police Plaza) for Sergeant Raymond’s upcoming public hearing (the details of which Maing says will soon be posted on the Crime + Punishment Facebook page). Raymond is facing internal charges, which Maing believes are related to his decision to speak out against the NYPD and is in danger of losing his job.

Maing thinks the backing of a high-profile celebrity is needed to really get the issue into the public sphere. “If anybody here knows Jay Z,” he said to a laugh from the crowd.



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