Frank Serpico and the Knapp Commission
Francesco Vincent Serpico (born April 14, 1936) is an American retired New York Police Department detective, best known for whistleblowing on police corruption – User:Joeyjojo86, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the bustling heart of New York City during the late 60s and early 70s, underneath the glamour of Broadway and the hustle of Wall Street, a darker tale was unfolding within the ranks of its police department. The NYPD, an institution that was supposed to stand for law and order, had pockets riddled with corruption. This wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill shady deal, but a systemic plague of payoffs, bribery, and an unsettling code of silence. But like any great story of heroism, amidst the shadows, there was a glimmer of hope – an officer named Frank Serpico.

Frank Serpico wasn’t your stereotypical New York cop. With his long hair and love for the arts, he seemed more Greenwich Village bohemian than police officer. But beneath that unconventional exterior was a man of fierce integrity and undeniable courage. As Serpico walked the streets of the city, he began to notice something amiss within the force. Cops taking money, turning a blind eye to certain crimes, and even partnering with the very criminals they were meant to arrest. It wasn’t just rookie cops or those near retirement. This was a spiderweb of graft that reached up to the higher echelons of the force.

Though surrounded by this shadowy world, Serpico chose not to fall into the trap. Instead, he decided to blow the whistle, a move that was as brave as it was dangerous. After all, snitches, especially within the force, weren’t looked upon kindly. They broke that unspoken bond, the ‘blue wall of silence.’ But Serpico, ever the maverick, began to gather evidence, speaking out against his fellow officers and reaching out to higher authorities, hoping someone would listen.

His allegations were earth-shattering, and eventually, they couldn’t be ignored. This led to the creation of the Knapp Commission in the early 70s, named after its chairman, Whitman Knapp. The commission was tasked with one main objective: to dive deep into the allegations of systemic corruption within the NYPD.

And boy, did they find it.

The hearings of the Knapp Commission were explosive. They unveiled a world where monthly payments from gamblers, drug dealers, and everyday businessmen were the norm for many officers. Some cops even had price lists for what it would cost to ‘look the other way.’ Testimonies from various officers painted a picture of a force not just in disarray, but in active partnership with the city’s underworld.

But amidst the dark tales, there were stories of hope. Apart from Serpico, other officers came forward, shedding light on the dark corners of the department and their efforts to combat its growing rot. Their testimonies, along with Serpico’s undying efforts, played a monumental role in the cleaning up of the NYPD.

While the Knapp Commission didn’t eradicate corruption entirely (because let’s face it, no single commission can), it did put a significant dent in it. The force underwent several reforms, officers were prosecuted, and the NYPD, in many ways, tried to rebuild its tarnished image.

The story of frank Serpico, a beacon of resilience and integrity, became legendary. In the face of grave danger, personal threats, and isolation from his peers, he chose the hard right over the easy wrong. His tale, along with the workings of the Knapp Commission, serves as a timeless reminder that in the face of overwhelming darkness, even a single candle can make a difference.

Don Leith

By Don Leith

Retired from the real world. A love of research left over from my days on the debate team in college long ago led me to work on this website. Granted, not all these stories are "fun" or even "trivial" But they all are either weird, unusual or even extraordinary. Working on this website is "fun" in any case. Hope you enjoy it!