Frank Serpico

New York Police Detective Frank Serpico

Frank Serpico
Police detective
Francesco Vincent Serpico is a former New York City Police Department Detective. He is known for whistleblowing on police corruption in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an act that prompted Mayor John V. Lindsay to appoint the landmark Knapp Commission to investigate the NYPD.
Frank Serpico on Twitter

A policeman’s first obligation is to be responsible to the needs of the community he serves…The problem is that the atmosphere does not yet exist in which an honest police officer can act without fear of ridicule or reprisal from fellow officers. We create an atmosphere in which the honest officer fears the dishonest officer, and not the other way around.

    • 1971: Became the first New York City policeman in history to testify about widespread corruption in the department.
    • 1972: Received the NYPD’s highest award, The Medal of Honor.
    • After being shot and testifying about corruption in the NYPD, Serpico lived in Europe for nearly a decade.
    • Al Pacino played Serpico in the 1973 movie about his life.
Biography
Frank Serpico was born in Brooklyn, New York. When he was eighteen, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for two years in Korea. After military service, he worked part-time and attended college, joining the New York City Police Department at the age of twenty-three. His police career has been well-documented in Peter Maas’s best-selling biography and in the Academy Award nominated film, Serpico, in which Al Pacino portrayed him.Serpico’s career as a plainclothes police detective working in Brooklyn and the Bronx to expose vice racketeering was short-lived, however, because he swam against the tide of corruption that engulfed the NYPD during the late sixties and early seventies. Not only did he consistently refuse to take bribes for “looking the other way,” he risked his own safety to expose those who did. In 1967 he reported to appropriate officials “credible evidence of widespread, systemic police corruption.” It was not until April 1970, however, when the New York Times published an explosive story, that Mayor Lindsay took action and appointed the Knapp Commission to investigate. As a consequence of his testimony before the commission, Serpico was ostracized by his peers and, many believe, ultimately “set up” to be shot during a drug raid in which he was seriously wounded and his fellow officers did not call for assistance.He resigned from the NYPD and spent the next ten years living abroad, recovering from his wounds, traveling and learning. In the early eighties he settled in New York State.Serpico continues to speak out against both the weakening of civil liberties and corrupt practices in law enforcement, such as the attempted cover-up following the Amadou Diallo shooting in 1999. He provides support for “individuals who seek truth and justice even in the face of great personal risk.” He calls them “lamp lighters,” a term he prefers to the more common “whistleblowers,” because it evokes memories of the historic ride in which Paul Revere made a great deal of noise and caused the lanterns to be lit.He looked like some sort of fur trapper, this bearded man walking through the snowy woods here in upstate New York. But then, Frank Serpico has always been known for his disguises.Anyone who has seen the celebrated 1973 film “Serpico” knows that he often dressed up — bum, butcher, rabbi — to catch criminals. His off-duty look was never vintage cop either, with the bushy beard and the beads.

This is the man whose long and loud complaining about widespread corruption in the New York Police Department made him a pariah on the force. The patrolman shot in the face during a 1971 drug bust while screaming for backup from his fellow officers, who then failed to immediately call for an ambulance. The undaunted whistle-blower whose testimony was the centerpiece of the Knapp Commission hearings, which sparked the biggest shakeup in the history of the department.

Four decades later, Frank Serpico is still bearded, handsome and a flamboyant dresser. At 73, he seems spry enough to chase down and collar a perp; on that wintry walk through the woods, he interrogated a man carrying a sled, and followed a trail of blood drops in the snow until it disappeared. Not long before, he had sniffed out a dumper of garbage on his property and reported him to the police. Full Story

A renowned “good cop” says police abuse and corruption are like the coronavirus, infecting departments throughout the world.

Nearly half a century ago, Frank Serpico became a household name in the United States—and in many countries around the world—after he was portrayed by Al Pacino in the classic 1973 movie Serpico. The award-winning film told the true-life story of the New York City detective’s efforts to expose corruption and abuse inside the police department. In 1971, Serpico was awarded the Medal of Honor, the New York City Police Department’s highest award for bravery in action, and he is still ranked among the American Film Institute’s all-time movie heroes. Now 84, Serpico lives quietly outside Albany, New York, but he remains vocal in speeches, articles, and activist campaigns pushing for police reform. And Serpico says Americans are still fighting the same fundamental problem today that he struggled with as a young cop who refused to take bribes in New York during the 1960s and early ’70s: a near-total lack of accountability over abuses. Then as now, Serpico says, police departments have proved incapable of investigating themselves, and district attorneys typically look the other way, fearful of offending the politically powerful police unions.

In recent weeks, that problem exploded into worldwide furor once again after a white Minneapolis police officer was videoed casually suffocating a handcuffed black man, George Floyd, to death. Many experts said that had it not been for the video, the officer, Derek Chauvin—who was later fired and charged with second-degree murder—would likely still be on the Minneapolis police force. Serpico notes that there is a tragic continuum here: Much as police abuses today are being exposed only by citizen bystanders with cell phones, his only recourse 50 years ago was to go to the New York Times after he discovered that the NYPD was incapable of investigating itself and the city government wouldn’t act. Now, with Congress and state and local legislators finally confronting the problem of accountability and abuse by proposing new legislation, Serpico says there may be hope at last—but there’s a long way to go. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Full Story

MORE ARTICLES
Film Review: ‘Frank Serpico’
Decades After Breaking the Blue Wall of Silence, Ex-Cop Frank Serpico Enjoys the Quiet Life
A look back at former NYPD detective Frank Serpico
NYPD Whistleblower Frank Serpico Urges: Protect Police Whistleblowers
The Police Are Still Out of Control

VIDEOS

AE Biography Frank Serpico


City Room: Watching ‘Serpico’ With Serpico | The New York Times

Frank Serpico – Official Trailer l HD l IFC Films

Frank Serpico Talks Ethics and Survival with EMBA Students

Serpico – Pacino ‘known for overacting’

Frank Serpico (2017 Documentary) – Official Trailer

NYPD Whistle Blower Frank Serpico tells all on The Alex Jones Show

Frank Serpico on Police Corruption and Whistle Blowing

TCFF 2017: FRANK SERPICO


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