Crime + Punishment

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Crime + Punishment Movie Poster Image
Gripping docu about racist police policy has some cursing.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 112 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

It takes courageous people to change the world for the better. Real change can take a long time. Life is tough and not always fair.

Positive Role Models

Twelve police officers who refuse to make baseless arrests of minorities as required by their superiors fight the police department system so they can serve and protect people rather than harass and destroy people. In the process, they face rejection from many of their fellow officers.  


New Yorker Eric Garner was killed by New York City police officers when he was arrested for a non-violent crime -- selling cigarettes on the street. It's suggested that only a zeal to meet monthly arrest quotas prompted the arrest that led to his death. Officers protesting arrest quotas add that such baseless arrests disrupt or even ruin innocent people's lives. The policies victimize vulnerable minority citizens unlikely to have the wealth to pay for good lawyers, fines, bail, and other expenses that result from a run-in with the law.



"F--k," "s--t," and "hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man is arrested for illegally selling single cigarettes on the street.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Crime + Punishment, a 2018 documentary, follows the "NYPD 12," a dozen dedicated New York City police officers who sued their department over illegal racist practices that they refused to comply with. Under threat of reprisals from superiors, the officers wouldn't make required baseless arrests (minimal one per month) nor give out improper summonses as per minimal illegal quotas secretly set by the department. NYPD superiors retaliated by giving the officers undesirable shifts, putting them on foot patrol, giving them career-threatening negative performance evaluations, and refusing to promote even the most deserving. A youth is accused of shooting another youth, despite reports from witnesses that he wasn't the shooter. He spends a year in jail waiting to be exonerated. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "hell."     

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What's the story?

Twelve valiant New York City police department officers come forward in CRIME + PUNISHMENT to make public the embarrassing New York City Police Department secret that requires officers to meet monthly quotas for arrests and summonses. High-crime neighborhoods are targets for such quotas, with the arrest of black males between 14 and 21 specified. The arrests of these lower-income minority citizens generate millions in revenue for the city -- fines, bail -- leading several to observe that the city is making money off the bodies of young black men. Also clear is the fact that NYPD superiors retaliated against the officers who came forward by transferring them to undesirable shifts, putting them on foot patrol in the middle of winter, giving them career-ending negative performance evaluations, and refusing to promote even the most deserving. Officer Raymond, for example, scored eighth on the sergeant's exam out of 6,000 applicants, but for a long time was refused a promotion and given false, invented negative evaluations to justify holding him back. Although the quota part of their lawsuit is dismissed by a judge, irrefutable evidence collected by officers prove superiors routinely order arrest quotas to be filled. One unlucky youth's case exemplifies the racist practices as he's accused of shooting another youth despite reports from witnesses that he wasn't the shooter. He spends a year in jail waiting to be exonerated. With the help of a former cop turned private investigator, his case is dismissed for lack of evidence one year after the arrest. 

Is it any good?

This documentary compellingly shines a light on institutionalized injustice in New York City. Although such practices were outlawed, Crime + Punishment provides ample evidence -- recordings of superiors ordering cops to make arrests -- that the practice is in force and ruining the lives of innocent individuals. Filmmaker Stephen Maing gives officers cameras hidden in watches and pens, allowing the officers to film and record their superiors ordering them to meet arrest quotas. After filing the lawsuit, the twelve protesting officers receive press coverage that forces the police department to promote the high-scoring Raymond to sergeant.

The only other good news here is that a young man who spent a year in jail is released as the prosecutor recognizes he has no case and the judge dismisses the case. The movie's clear message is inspiring: if you know of wrongdoing, speak out against it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the many ways that racism can be made to seem normal and acceptable. According to Crime + Punishment, how does the New York City police department justify targeting the arrest of mostly black men from ages 14 to 21 whether or not they're guilty of crimes?

  • Officers allege that arrest quotas serve the purpose of generating millions in revenue to help allay city budgetary costs. Do you think it's fair to arrest law-abiding citizens as a way of generating income for the city? Why or why not?

  • To draw attention to the racism and unfairness of the city's arrest quota policy, officers risked their careers. Why do you think so few officers came forward to help change the practice? 

  • What character strengths are on display here?

Movie details

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