Early on in Stephen Maing's just-released Hulu documentary Crime + Punishment, NYPD Officer Edwin Raymond offers a blunt assessment about his line of work: "The reality is that law enforcement uses black bodies to generate revenue."
He's referring to the arrest quota system, which has been illegal in New York since 2010, and which the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio vehemently deny still exists. But plenty of rank-and-file cops claim otherwise, and in 2016, Raymond, along with a group of eleven other fed-up officers, set about reforming the system from the inside. Having witnessed the impact of quota-based policing on communities of color, the all-minority group of whistleblower cops risk their careers to file a class action lawsuit against the city.
Crime + Punishment follows this group—dubbed the NYPD 12—as they work to expose a system that they say encourages cops to issue bogus tickets to meet “activity" requirements, with major professional consequences for officers who refuse. Covert filming by Maing and secret audio recording from inside police precincts seem to confirm this, as well as the fact that Raymond’s supervisors don’t want him promoted because he’s “a young black man with dreads.” Alongside reams of explosive and infuriating evidence, the documentary zooms in on the human cost of those internal arrest metrics through emotional interviews with the family of Pedro Hernandez, a teenager who spent a year waiting trial on Rikers for a crime he didn’t commit.
Two years later, it's hard to say definitively whether much has changed. After a searing New York Times Magazine cover story on his plight, Raymond was eventually promoted, but so was his allegedly racist and corrupt tormenter. The NYPD 12's lawsuit is currently stalled, though it inspired a hugely successful class action suit, and subsequent assurances from the NYPD that it had stamped out quotas—for real this time.
We spoke with Sergeant Edwin Raymond about his firsthand experiences of racism within the NYPD, the failure of community policing, and his ever-growing disappointment in Mayor de Blasio.
The NYPD has repeatedly claimed there is no quota system. Do you think that's the case?
The quota system is absolutely happening. That's not an opinion, it's a fact. It's every single week. In the last two years I have not gone a week where I don't somehow come across an officer that thanks me for taking this initiative, then shares what's going on in their respective command.
Whether I'm off duty or on duty, officers tend to recognize me, and they'll say, "Thank you, there's a lot of people that appreciate what you're doing because honestly, we don't have the courage. Oh by the way, let me tell you what happened the other day." And they'll share the anecdotes of different things showing that the quota is still very real.
In the film, you lay the blame for this problem at the mayor's feet, at one point asking: "What's the point of things like affordable housing, universal pre-K, if in 12 years that 4-year-old will be swept up into a quota system?" Do you think de Blasio knows that these quotas are still happening?
Given the position that he's in, he has to know. He absolutely knows. It's one of those things where he inherited a well-oiled machine that's extremely powerful. As the executive, if he's not willing to take certain risks, he's not going to be able to make the necessary changes. And that's what I think the disconnect is: He's just not willing to take those risks. Again, the film shows that a good portion of this has to deal with the budget. How are you going to make up for that lost revenue? As an executive, the budget is a big part of his concern—that's why I think he's tries to ignore it.
Some people might think the mayor is afraid to get on the NYPD's bad side, to be seen as attacking—
Well, that's part of it. But I don't consider it an attack. He's in charge of the department, and he's supposed to make the necessary changes that the people voted him in to make. So that's part of the problem: Any type of critique of policing is seen as anti-police. There's a spectrum where it's either your pro-cop or anti-cop. That's not the case. Everybody wins if this thing gets reformed properly. I don't see him making necessary changes as an attack whatsoever. It's literally what he was voted in to do.
If you did have a chance to question de Blasio, what would you ask him?
My question would be how do you go from the person that was marching with activists and denouncing stop and frisk to completely ignoring what we're saying? Unless you were just completely pandering, at least trigger an investigation. Look into what we're saying, see if there's any credibility to it. That would be my main question for the mayor. How do you completely ignore this? How do you speak about your son, the fear of your son possibly having a detrimental experience with police, and ignore the fact that it often starts with broken windows policing? For the NYPD 12 to come out two years ago, and yet the mayor has said nothing, it makes no sense.
I think that de Blasio and James O'Neill, his police commissioner, would probably point to something like neighborhood policing as evidence that things are moving in the right direction…
In my ten years what I've witnessed most is that the department is just completely unwilling to take the community's concern into consideration until it boils over to the point where it becomes too controversial. Then they're forced to do all types of public relations tactics to try to save themselves.
You're saying that community policing is just public relations?
One thousand percent. It's one of those things where they say: Okay, let's make sure a little bit of this exists so we can continue doing what we've always been doing. It's not sincere. It's not incentivized. The officer who continues to police the old way, the way they'd like for you to believe doesn't happen anymore—that's the officer that's still going to be rewarded. If you wanna make change, you have to incentivize that change. But they're saying this is the new wave, and it's basically old software being run on new hardware.
At the same time, transparency within the NYPD has really gotten worse in the last few years under de Blasio. Is there any justification, in your view, for keeping police officer disciplinary records a secret?
It's actually ironic that of all people it was the de Blasio administration that interpreted it that way, even when the cops are going to hate him regardless. Even Bloomberg, even someone as draconian as Giuliani, didn't do anything like this. Not to mention, part of his campaign promise was transparency. This ridiculous interpretation of the law is meant to hide records. Because they know, if people are looking in the right direction it's gonna be ugly. I think it's a shame. It's bullshit. Again, coming from a self-proclaimed progressive it's contradictory. It's a total hypocrisy of what he's supposed to stand for.
I'm wondering about Constantin Tsachas, your former captain, who you've said falsified evaluation documents in order to sabotage your promotion. What's it like knowing that he's still working for the department?
Not only is he working, but he's gotten promoted. I was so disgusted. If you pay attention to what I have out there publicly, I don't really point at individuals, I speak about systemic issues. But I made the exception because this guy, he's really a problem. He's absolutely still working, he's promoted, he's even more powerful than he was when he sabotaged my promotion which is, again, an example in which the action does not cooperate with the talk.
How do you deal with that?
We don't work near each other anymore, so it's not like I have to deal with him. But it's beyond me being a sergeant, just me being a New Yorker; me being a man of color. I have to answer the question from that platform. It's disgusting.
People might be wondering how you could have these experiences and still do this job every day.
One thing that fuels me is knowing that what I'm doing is bigger than me. And that's the fuel, that's what keeps me going. If I was doing this for me, I would have never joined. The work I'm doing here, in this position, it's bigger than me.
What are you hoping the film accomplishes? What are you expecting it to accomplish?
What I'm hoping is that it brings enough awareness to the point where—seeing as this is a midterm election year—the people running for election know that this is something on the people's mind. Whether it's local, state, or federal, I hope there's initiative in drafting the proper bills that become law to rectify this throughout the nation. The best scenario is that there's real reform, not just in legislation, but in transforming the culture.
What I think will happen, and what I'm also hoping does happen, is that people will become a lot more aware. People will realize and understand that policing is not monolithic, that we don't necessarily agree with the system.
I also think there are many police officers that are going to see the film are also going to be shocked, because again, not many of them think about the deeper results of what we're doing, the human costs of what we're doing. The film, I think, is going to help people understand the many dimensions of being a police officer.
Crime + Punishment was released on Hulu on Thursday, August 23rd. You can watch here.