Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Frank Serpico

Mention Frank Serpico and most people would think of the film with Al Pacino.  Some may be a touch cleverer and remember the TV film and short series with David Birney.  Frank Serpico was a very real cop who paid an extremely heavy price for exposing endemic corruption throughout the NYPD; he was very nearly fatally shot.  The continued view of some people is that the raid Serpico and a couple of other cops went on, was in fact a set-up for Serpico to be fatally wounded.  He was shot at virtually point blank range in the face, whilst his colleagues seemingly "held back".  Whilst in hospital, he received poison pen letters and cards hoping he dies.  This from cops themselves.  Why should an honest cop be treated disgustingly by his own bosses and colleagues, and his own force?  Why does exposure of corruption scare and frighten Police Administrations so much?

    Frank Serpico was born in New York in 1936 and his dream was to become a cop.  He worked as a private investigator and youth counsellor before joining the NYPD in September 1959, working as a uniform cop, then for the Forces` BCI department for two years, then he went into plainclothes.  His ambition was to become a detective.  It was in plainclothes that he encountered corruption. He never accepted bribes.  His coleagues could not understand why he didn`t because the money was from gambling operators, and organised crime.  They felt it was not bad because the bribes were not from drug pushers or distributors.  Serpico had his principles; a bribe is a bribe.  To accept is to be bought.  He made complaints discreetly to high ranking Officers he felt he could trust, but for a few years, he was given the runaround, given false hopes and promises that led to nothing.  He was transferred a couple of times but wherever he went, the corruption was rife.

    The pressure he was constantly under, simply for the reason that he was not crooked, took an enormous toll on his private life.  The ongoing struggle to find hierarchy that would listen, consumed him.  A half hearted investigation in which around seven officers faced acton over bribery, and some of the people Serpico was long talking to, were given promotions, and it could be shown that this was the extent of corruption.  Serpico knew he had wasted a couple years of his life, fighting to have a proper investigation, but was blocked.  Finally, he and some others went to the New York Times, told all they knew and they splashed it all over their paper.  it caused huge ructions within the NYPD, with hierarchy denying that cops were thoroughly corrupt.  Serpico was hated throughout the department.  He received threats(from cops!) and then ended up being shot in 1971.

    There has been sporadic bursts of  whistleblowers revealing bent cops, but will corruption ever be eradicated?  I do not believe so, but it thrives when the command structure simply look the other way.  One thing that is puzzling is that cops want everybody to betray their friends yet despise cops who do the same to their bent colleagues.  in truth, is a bent cop any different from a crook?  No!   Case closed.