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The Police Are Still Out of Control. I should know.
by JonJon
December 12, 2014 at 6:08 PM

By Frank Serpico, October 23, 2014

I'm posting only one of 11 pages.  I saw the movie Serpico When I was a teenager and have never forgotten this man.  I've wondered for years what happened to him.  I haven't read all the pages, yet.  I know he left the country for his own safety and his story is why I believe Ramsey Orta needs to leave NY.

Serpico discusses today's police, including the Ferguson PD.  He's now in upstate NY but I guess he figures all the guys who wanted him dead are long gone though I still don't know if he should have made this public statement.

In the opening scene of the 1973 movie “Serpico,” I am shot in the face—or to be more accurate, the character of Frank Serpico, played by Al Pacino, is shot in the face. Even today it’s very difficult for me to watch those scenes, which depict in a very realistic and terrifying way what actually happened to me on Feb. 3, 1971. I had recently been transferred to the Narcotics division of the New York City Police Department, and we were moving in on a drug dealer on the fourth floor of a walk-up tenement in a Hispanic section of Brooklyn. The police officer backing me up instructed me (since I spoke Spanish) to just get the apartment door open “and leave the rest to us.”

One officer was standing to my left on the landing no more than eight feet away, with his gun drawn; the other officer was to my right rear on the stairwell, also with his gun drawn. When the door opened, I pushed my way in and snapped the chain. The suspect slammed the door closed on me, wedging in my head and right shoulder and arm. I couldn’t move, but I aimed my snub-nose Smith & Wesson revolver at the perp (the movie version unfortunately goes a little Hollywood here, and has Pacino struggling and failing to raise a much-larger 9-millimeter automatic). From behind me no help came. At that moment my anger got the better of me. I made the almost fatal mistake of taking my eye off the perp and screaming to the officer on my left: “What the hell you waiting for? Give me a hand!” I turned back to face a gun blast in my face. I had cocked my weapon and fired back at him almost in the same instant, probably as reflex action, striking him. (He was later captured.)

When I regained consciousness, I was on my back in a pool of blood trying to assess the damage from the gunshot wound in my cheek. Was this a case of small entry, big exit, as often happens with bullets? Was the back of my head missing? I heard a voice saying, “Don’ worry, you be all right, you be all right,” and when I opened my eyes I saw an old Hispanic man looking down at me like Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan. My “backup” was nowhere in sight. They hadn’t even called for assistance—I never heard the famed “Code 1013,” meaning “Officer Down.” They didn’t call an ambulance either, I later learned; the old man did. One patrol car responded to investigate, and realizing I was a narcotics officer rushed me to a nearby hospital (one of the officers who drove me that night said, “If I knew it was him, I would have left him there to bleed to death,” I learned later).

The next time I saw my “back-up” officers was when one of them came to the hospital to bring me my watch. I said, “What the hell am I going to do with a watch? What I needed was a back-up. Where were you?” He said, “Fuck you,” and left. Both my “back-ups” were later awarded medals for saving my life.

I still don’t know exactly what happened on that day. There was never any real investigation. But years later, Patrick Murphy, who was police commissioner at the time, was giving a speech at one of my alma maters, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and I confronted him. I said, “My name is Frank Serpico, and I’ve been carrying a bullet in my head for over 35 years, and you, Mr. Murphy, are the man I hold responsible. You were the man who was brought as commissioner to take up the cause that I began — rooting out corruption. You could have protected me; instead you put me in harm’s way. What have you got to say?” He hung his head, and had no answer.

Even now, I do not know for certain why I was left trapped in that door by my fellow police officers. But the Narcotics division was rotten to the core, with many guys taking money from the very drug dealers they were supposed to bust. I had refused to take bribes and had testified against my fellow officers. Police make up a peculiar subculture in society. More often than not they have their own moral code of behavior, an “us against them” attitude, enforced by a Blue Wall of Silence. It’s their version of the Mafia’s omerta. Speak out, and you’re no longer “one of us.” You’re one of “them.” And as James Fyfe,  a nationally recognized expert on the use of force, wrote in his 1993 book about this issue, Above The Law, officers who break the code sometimes won’t be helped in emergency situations, as I wasn’t.

Forty-odd years on, my story probably seems like ancient history to most people, layered over with Hollywood legend. For me it’s not, since at the age of 78 I’m still deaf in one ear and I walk with a limp and I carry fragments of the bullet near my brain. I am also, all these years later, still persona non grata in the NYPD. Never mind that, thanks to Sidney Lumet’s direction and Al Pacino’s brilliant acting, “Serpico” ranks No. 40 on the American Film Institute’s list of all-time movie heroes, or that as I travel around the country and the world, police officers often tell me they were inspired to join the force after seeing the movie at an early age.

In the NYPD that means little next to my 40-year-old heresy, as they see it. I still get hate mail from active and retired police officers. A couple of years ago after the death of David Durk — the police officer who was one of my few allies inside the department in my efforts to expose graft —  the Internet message board “NYPD Rant” featured some choice messages directed at me. “Join your mentor, Rat scum!” said one. An ex-con recently related to me that a precinct captain had once said to him, “If it wasn’t for that fuckin’ Serpico, I coulda been a millionaire today.” My informer went on to say, “Frank, you don’t seem to understand, they had a well-oiled money making machine going and you came along and threw a handful of sand in the gears.”

In 1971 I was awarded the Medal of Honor, the NYPD’s highest award for bravery in action, but it wasn’t for taking on an army of corrupt cops. It was most likely due to the insistence of Police Chief Sid Cooper, a rare good guy who was well aware of the murky side of the NYPD that I’d try to expose. But they handed the medal to me like an afterthought, like tossing me a pack of cigarettes. After all this time, I’ve never been given a proper certificate with my medal. And although living Medal of Honor winners are typically invited to yearly award ceremonies, I’ve only been invited once — and it was by Bernard Kerick, who ironically was the only NYPD commissioner to later serve time in prison. A few years ago, after the New York Police Museum refused my guns and other memorabilia, I loaned them to the Italian-American museum right down street from police headquarters, and they invited me to their annual dinner. I didn’t know it was planned, but the chief of police from Rome, Italy, was there, and he gave me a plaque. The New York City police officers who were there wouldn’t even look at me.


So my personal story didn’t end with the movie, or with my retirement from the force in 1972. It continues right up to this day. And the reason I’m speaking out now is that, tragically, too little has really changed since the Knapp Commission, the outside investigative panel formed by then-Mayor John Lindsay after I failed at repeated internal efforts to get the police and district attorney to investigate rampant corruption in the force. Lindsay had acted only because finally, in desperation, I went to the New York Times, which put my story on the front page. Led by Whitman Knapp, a tenacious federal judge, the commission for at least a brief moment in time supplied what has always been needed in policing: outside accountability. As a result many officers were prosecuted and many more lost their jobs. But the commission disbanded in 1972 even though I had hoped (and had so testified) that it would be made permanent.

And today the Blue Wall of Silence endures in towns and cities across America. Whistleblowers in police departments — or as I like to call them, “lamp lighters,” after Paul Revere — are still turned into permanent pariahs. The complaint I continue to hear is that when they try to bring injustice to light they are told by government officials: “We can’t afford a scandal; it would undermine public confidence in our police.” That confidence, I dare say, is already seriously undermined.

Things might have improved in some areas. The days when I served and you could get away with anything, when cops were better at accounting than at law enforcement — keeping meticulous records of the people they were shaking down, stealing drugs and money from dealers on a regular basis — all that no longer exists as systematically as it once did, though it certainly does in some places. Times have changed. It’s harder to be a venal cop these days.

But an even more serious problem — police violence — has probably grown worse, and it’s out of control for the same reason that graft once was: a lack of accountability.



Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/the-police-are-still-out-of-control-112160.html#ixzz3LjAVzqnI

Replies

  • EireLass
    December 12, 2014 at 6:42 PM
    I think it would be great for you to contact Orta, and invite him to come live with you and start his life new.
  • JonJon
    by JonJon
    December 12, 2014 at 6:57 PM

    What's Orta got to do with Serpico's confirming the cops are out of control from first-hand knowledge?

    As he's out on bail awaiting trial I don't believe he's allowed to leave the city.  I believe you know that.  You know everything else, don't you? 

    Quoting EireLass: I think it would be great for you to contact Orta, and invite him to come live with you and start his life new.


  • littlemum41
    December 12, 2014 at 7:17 PM

     

    Quoting EireLass: I think it would be great for you to contact Orta, and invite him to come live with you and start his life new.

     eye rolling

  • EireLass
    December 12, 2014 at 7:42 PM
    You mentioned him in your post.
    Bail and trial dont last forever, youd be able to invite him to come when its over.
    Quoting JonJon:

    What's Orta got to do with Serpico's confirming the cops are out of control from first-hand knowledge?

    As he's out on bail awaiting trial I don't believe he's allowed to leave the city.  I believe you know that.  You know everything else, don't you? 

    Quoting EireLass: I think it would be great for you to contact Orta, and invite him to come live with you and start his life new.

  • kailu1835
    December 12, 2014 at 7:51 PM
    Narcotics officers are notoriously dirty in some way. They get caught up in doing the thing they're supposed to be putting a stop to. One more reason to end the war on drugs.
  • JonJon
    by JonJon
    December 12, 2014 at 8:31 PM

    Mentioning him doesn't make him the topic.  Serpico's confirmation of cop corruption is the topic.

    He's not the subject but I would love to meet Mr. Orta.  My modest little cave wouldn't accommodate him, his wife and his mother but we have an appreciable Spanish-speaking population.  He'd feel quite at home in this city.

    Quoting EireLass: You mentioned him in your post. Bail and trial dont last forever, youd be able to invite him to come when its over.
    Quoting JonJon:

    What's Orta got to do with Serpico's confirming the cops are out of control from first-hand knowledge?

    As he's out on bail awaiting trial I don't believe he's allowed to leave the city.  I believe you know that.  You know everything else, don't you? 

    Quoting EireLass: I think it would be great for you to contact Orta, and invite him to come live with you and start his life new.


  • JonJon
    by JonJon
    December 12, 2014 at 8:35 PM

    Probably the 2nd time you and I agree...almost.

    I don't believe the war on drugs needs to stop but I'm getting the closest I've ever gotten to being a proponent of decriminalizing the possession of pot.

    Quoting kailu1835: Narcotics officers are notoriously dirty in some way. They get caught up in doing the thing they're supposed to be putting a stop to. One more reason to end the war on drugs.


  • littlemum41
    December 12, 2014 at 8:51 PM

     I saw Serpico when it came out then I read his book. It was shocking. I never knew how corrupt and ,honestly, how stupid cops are. There are a few exceptions-nice guys who really want to keep the peace and help people . BUT....I am not naive. I don't trust them .I think they are drawn to the job because of the so-called power they think they want. If that is what they want, then it is not appealing. The dishonesty and corruption is what sickens me.

  • skrbelly
    December 12, 2014 at 11:10 PM
    Cops. People like to say that, "It's a few bad apples." In my experiences, personal and professional, I have only come across a few GOOD apples. Serpico came to my high school and gave a speech. Terrible what was done to him. Corruption is ubiquitous.

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