The documentary “Crime + Punishment,” through a combination of sobering statistics and lively characters who bring those statistics to vivid life, tracks the progress of a class-action lawsuit filed by a group of 12 New York City police officers who allege that the department has continued to rely on a system of arrest quotas, despite the fact that the system was officially outlawed in 2010.
Sometimes known as “broken windows” policing, that policy — under which cops can be disciplined for failing to meet a minimum number of minor arrests and/or summonses — disproportionately affects blacks and other minorities, and often leads to frivolous detainments, according to the film, which has been directed with a kind of measured dismay by Stephen Maing. Between 2007 and 2015, for instance, more than 900,000 summonses were ultimately dismissed by the courts for lack of probable cause.
So why perpetuate such an apparently ineffective policy? As Maing argues, it’s money. In one recent year, more than $900 million of New York’s budget came from summonses, fines and arrest-related fees.
To tell this disturbing story, Maing has found a handful of charismatic subjects, including: Manny Gomez, a tough-talking but compassionate private investigator who champions the victims of false arrests; Pedro Hernandez, a teenager who was charged — falsely, he says, with steadfast conviction — in a shooting; and Officer Edwin Raymond, one of the plaintiffs in the group known as the “NYPD 12.” Raymond, who was profiled in a 2016 New York Times story, delivers some of the film’s best sound bites.
“New York City is Ferguson on steroids,” he says. And “the reality is, law enforcement uses black bodies to generate revenue.”
Interspersed among these and other stories are clips of former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton , speechifying with notable sanctimony, on the subject of integrity.
For the most part, the film balances its outrage with objectivity. Although the primary focus of “Crime + Punishment” is New York and one specific legal case, its real message is broader: The nature of policing has changed from keeping the peace to a kind of outright warfare between officers and the people they are sworn to serve.
Unrated. At the Avalon. Contains strong language and drug references. 111 minutes.