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Innocent "criminals" as a source of income in New York

Crime and Punishment
Regissør: Stephen Maing

CORRUPTION / Police officers in New York are encouraged to treat residents as criminals rather than as people to help and protect.


Stage Manager Stephen Mains new documentaries Crime and Punishment follows a group of twelve police officers in New York which goes by the name NYPD12. In total, they have warned that the New York Police Department (NYPD) is illegally demanding that police officers meet monthly allowances for arrests and subpoenas. The pressure to meet these quotas is high, as the police officer's career is at stake. Police officers are encouraged to treat residents as criminals rather than as people to help and protect. Failure to meet these quotas will have personal consequences. Performance monitoring, evaluations and unreasonable work tasks are some of the press resources used against police officers. The film also shows that the quotas create a mood of "us against them" in the police workday.

From 2014 to 2017, we follow the twelve policemen who are taking legal action against the police department's breach of the state ban on monthly quota requirements in the police. The ban, which came into force in 2010, makes it illegal to require a police officer to show a certain number of fines, subpoenas and arrests this month.

Black residents as a source of income

Police quotas are just as much a reality in several US cities. In 2015 broadcast the podcast This American Life the story "Inconvenience Store" about Earl Sampson, who was arrested and harassed weekly by police officers from 2008 and for four years to come. He was arrested more than 60 times, often while working at a Miami Gardens kiosk in Florida. The harassment only stopped when his boss sent footage from 15 various surveillance cameras to the press.

Pedro must serve a year in the Rikers Island Jail; the family cannot pay the bail
at 250 000 dollars.

The root of the problem, as is so often the case, is money. We hear that "over 900 million dollars of New York's annual budget consists of revenue from subpoenas, fines and arrests."

This is a significant incentive to explain why those high up in New York's political corridors want to keep the numbers of arrests and subpoenas high – despite the fact that it affects the citizens police are there to assist and protect. The abuse is often targeted at low-income Black and Latin American citizens.

Edwin Raymond, one of the police officers in the NYPD12 group, states rightly that "the police use blacks as a source of income".

Hidden methods

Crime and Punishment combines magnificent New York overview images with intimate images of the characters in the film, as well as raw footage taken on phones or with hidden cameras. Hidden tapes of conversations between police officers are also used to prove that although the police department claims that they do not operate with a quota system, the officers are pressed to deal with quotas, and they are punished when the quotas are not complied with or they resist them.

The film is sober and factual, and the characters express themselves well. This applies to both NYPD12 members and their supporters and the citizens affected. The latter are victims of the police's endless harassment – most often these are young boys between 14 and 21 years. They are simple target slices.

Crime + Punishment Director Stephen Maing
Crime and Punishment
Director Stephen Maing

Pedro Hernandez, who has impeccable character, has been arrested many times, but all charges have been dropped in court. The latest charge concerns the carrying and use of a deadly weapon, but Pedro claims that he is innocent. He still has to serve one year in Rikers Island Prison; the family cannot pay the bail of $ 250. He is 000 years old and is trying to finish his schooling behind bars.

The police officer responsible for the arrests of Pedro has now been promoted to investigator, having been able to show up to three times the quota figures during his time as a police officer. The Hernandez family is just one example of the trauma and emotional stress these community groups face. Although the charges are often withdrawn due to lack of evidence, the constant harassment and arrests have a price. Pedro's mother, Jessica, sums it up like this: "Every time they arrest the boy, they destroy his life."

Ongoing trauma and abuse

It is disturbing to watch as two teenagers stare skeptically at the police car passing by for fear of taking them. This is the second or third time the car has passed by shortly; they must get away.

Citizens – especially young men – are terrorized out in the streets, in their homes and in the workplace by the people who are supposed to protect them. What they are exposed to should have been impossible, but in these American neighborhoods it has become part of everyday life.

I Crime and Punishment we come close to NYPD12's fight to change the system. But the conspiracy is apparently at such a high level in the department and the state that it seems to be exploited. Although the movie is largely ended with success stories and hopes, NYPD12 is still being punished for what they tell, and the basic problem has not yet been addressed. Therefore, there are few signs that the problem is close to being resolved.

Translated by Sigrid Strømmen
Canadian Bakker is a filmmaker, based in Berlin.

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