New York, N.Y. – The name Frank Serpico became synonymous with one of the biggest scandals in the history of the NYPD in the late 1960’s, after he exposed widespread corruption within the department, ultimately testifying before a grand jury after being injured in the line of duty.
Serpico is a retired American New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer who is famous for blowing the whistle on police corruption in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an act that compelled Mayor John V. Lindsay to appoint the landmark Knapp Commission to investigate the NYPD.
After crossing the “thin blue line” and testifying about corrupt officers involved in running guns, drugs and other illicit activity, Serpico became a target of the Blue Mafia.
Serpico was shot during a drug arrest attempt on February 3, 1971, at 778 Driggs Avenue, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Four officers from Brooklyn North received a tip that a drug deal was about to take place.
Two policemen, Gary Roteman and Arthur Cesare, stayed outside, while the third, Paul Halley, stood in front of the apartment building. Serpico climbed up the fire escape, entered by the fire escape door, went downstairs, listened for the password, then followed two suspects outside.
The police arrested the young suspects, and found one had two bags of heroin. Halley stayed with the suspects, and Roteman told Serpico (who spoke Spanish), to make a fake purchase attempt to get the drug dealers to open the door. The police went to the third-floor landing. Serpico knocked on the door, keeping his hand on his revolver. The door opened a few inches, just far enough to wedge his body in. Serpico called for help, but his fellow officers ignored him.
Serpico was then shot in the face with a .22 LR pistol.
“I still have a bullet in my head,” he said, “and I was lucky to come out with my life.”
With the recent focus on police accountability, in the wake of the recent high profile police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the 78-year old Serpico has stepped back out of the shadows speaking to Al-Jazeera’s America Tonight in his first on camera interview in years.
Serpico’s story is forever immortalized in the 1973 Oscar-nominated film, in which he is portrayed by Al Pacino.
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, freethinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.