Your Job is to Arrest People

Millions of New York City’s annual budget is due to the amassing criminal summonses and arrest-related fees that it’s African American and Latino citizens receive five times more often than those who are white. But why is this true when a quota law is in place? Crime + Punishment in which filmmaker Stephen Maing strives to answer this question. What he finds is that the goals of the New York commissioner and the goals of his officers are incompatible in many detrimental ways. The goal of the NYPD is supposedly to get guns off of the street so that young men cannot join gangs, but in actuality, they are enforcing a broken windows policy that simply does not work. On the other hand, the officers are told that their job is to arrest an acceptable amount of people, in order to catch up with their peers. If they do not comply with these demands, these officers have been being punished and retaliated against, by having their shifts changed or even becoming ostracized by fellow officers.

Now, when these officers are desperate for numbers, they target the vulnerable; those without a vote, say, or power to go against law enforcement. This ultimately creates that statistic concerning the disproportionate rate of criminality for minorities, even though these charges are almost always dismissed. Yet even with a lack of probable cause, after the arrest or summons is carried out, every process in the criminal justice system costs money. The quota law has done nothing to reduce New York City’s bad habit of using its officers as a revenue producing agent for the city. This is all concerning a wording issue in how the law was written, since you cannot tell an officer outright that they need a specific number of arrests and summonses, but higher ranking officers can tell their subordinates that they don’t have enough. The system that the officers are forced to work under is made of numbers, and departments like New York City want cops that can keep their mouths shut. Ultimately, this is a public safety issue and public support is the solution, since the quota law was written in such a way that penalized police officers simply cannot and could not sue the department.

This documentary helped confirm and expand on what we discuss in class, but from a differing perspective. In the book Detained and Deported, we spoke about a shift toward arresting all undocumented immigrants, instead of just those who had committed a crime (Reagan, 2016). This point is similar in nature to the tendency for NYPD officers acting under quotas who seek out vulnerable targets who are likely to not be committing serious offenses. Culminating a large number of arrest and summonses due to smaller crimes can help an officer who needs to meet their perceived quota, but it also disproportionately impacts those who are not threats to society (Reagan, 2016). This is exactly what happened to one African American boy followed in the documentary, as he was targeted so heavily by police for a crime he did not commit, that they were known to follow him around the city until he was back at his home. Detained and Deported had also talked about how immigrants were being used as cash cows under the privatization of detention centers, which is parallel to how NYPD is treating its targeted minorities for costly arrests and summonses (Reagan, 2016).

Quota laws, or rather the lack of their enforcement, could also be seen as what Davis called a race-neutral policy (Davis, 2018). This is due to the fact that New York City’s system implicitly relies on numbers, and that inevitably produces the distorted outcomes in justice for vulnerable communities. By failing to project the ways in which things like supposed race-neutral policies and quotas will not be race-neutral once implemented, it has created the exact discrepancies that the quota law was put in place to prevent (Davis, 2018). Not only this, but the documentary revealed New York City’s incapability to follow the quota law could have appeared to be a race effect on crime at first glance, but it was really a socioeconomic measure for the state. Just as the UCR data for 2015 stated, this outgrowth of disadvantages was likely to disproportionately affect African American communities, as they are the most affected by the costly measures of the justice system (Davis, 2018).

Although the focus of disadvantaged police officers was contradictory to the class’s focus on citizens, I believe it only added to my understanding of the issue. It’s very important for others to understand this more holistic perspective, as the documentary has helped enforce the idea that the police officers are not the bad guys; bad policy implementation is. I would recommend this documentary because of this general idea alone, but more specifically because Stephen Maing had spent three years researching the unchecked and unexplored bias surrounding the quota law. Not only are minority citizens being targeted to wrongfully pay for something otherwise not effectively addressing crime, but police officers are being punished if they don’t participate in this biased practice. If an officer sees no reason to give arrests or summons, then it is reasonable to say that crime is already being effectively addressed and there may be a reduction in crime. If this isn’t something to be celebrated rather than punishable for an officer, Crime + Punishment leads you to beg the question; what is the job of a police officer? Is an officer failing at his job if he doesn’t arrest people enough people? If not, then why are these officers being retaliated against?

By Jenna Albitz



Crime Punishment. (2018). Retrieved from

Davis, A. J. (2018). Policing the Black man: arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Regan, M. (2016). Detained and deported: stories of immigrant families under fire. Boston: Beacon Press.


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