Hot Docs review: Crime + Punishment

Director Stephen Maing gets an insider’s view of the NYPD's discriminatory arrest practices

CRIME + PUNISHMENT (Stephen Maing, U.S.). 111 minutes. Rating: NNNN

Police quotas are a big topic in the news, but Stephen Maing’s documentary gets an insider’s view of the discriminatory practice.

Crime + Punishment follows the NYPD 12 – a group of minority New York cops who sued the department over discriminatory practices – as they endure internal retaliation for speaking out against an issue that led to the death of Eric Garner in 2014.

Maing has spent years covering  cops, capturing plenty of damning evidence of the NYPD’s arbitrary arrests – the charges are usually dismissed, though lives can still be ruined – and subsequent attempts to intimidate and deny whistleblowers, sometimes via hidden microphones officers wore to meetings with their superiors.

But the film is more than a social issue doc: at its core, Crime + Punishment is a portrait of moral people who exist in limbo. Some officers had difficult lives and got into policing thinking they would make a difference in their communities. But they quickly realize the law does not matter and will not protect them. And because they are cops, the activist community is wary of partnering with them. Maing amplifies this sense of isolation with beautiful zoom-in aerial shots the New York City skyline.

The doc also follows a crusading and charismatic private investigator, Manuel Gomez (he clearly loves the camera’s attention), as he gathers evidence to free a wrongly arrested teen from Rikers Island, showing the issue from the victim’s point of view. Maing packs in plenty of dramatic stakes, giving the doc the feel of a legal thriller.

May 3, 6 pm, TIFF 1 May 4, 12:45 pm, Hot Docs Cinema May 5, 8:45 pm, TIFF 1

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