Through sensitive portraiture and vigorous investigative reporting, Stephen Maing's searing documentary Crime + Punishment tracks the struggle of minority police officers within the NYPD to change the culture of law enforcement itself. Maing follows the NYPD 12, a band of minority cops who in 2015 sued New York City and its police department over the pressure put on officers by supervisors to meet monthly quotas of arrests and summonses. Such quotas are illegal, and the NYPD has long insisted its cops are held to none, but Crime + Punishment, shot between 2014 and 2017, again and again demonstrates otherwise. Listen to the surreptitiously recorded sergeant beseeching an officer to score his "collar, collar, collar, collar for the month." Fume at the printout itemizing the brass' expectations for office productivity, filched from an office. And witness the cruel tragedy of men and women arrested, ripped from their lives, and sent to Rikers Island for months on end, only to see their cases dismissed due to a lack of evidence.
Between 2007 and 2015, a staggering 900,000 summonses issued by NYPD officers were dismissed. Crime + Punishment makes it clear that, whether or not it's official policy, quota systems have long ruled at the NYPD. For all its investigative rigor and sympathetic character studies, Maing's film also proves arresting in its compositions, its moody, city-spanning drone photography, its occasional playful looseness. But its power rises from the courage of its subjects, men and women who don't necessarily want to be fighting the system -- they're eager to be out there in their city, policing the way they consider just.