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Some Still Think He's A Rat
January 22, 2010 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Frank Serpico testified before the Knapp Commission in October 1971, becoming the first police officer in the United States to voluntarily give evidence against a fellow policeman. You probably have seen the movie. Frank Serpico returns. “I still have nightmares,” he said. “I open a door a little bit and it just explodes in my face. Or I’m in a jam and I call the police, and guess who shows up? My old cop buddies who hated me.”
posted by Xurando (41 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm glad to be able to hear about a hero without needing to post a "." Thanks for the post.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:13 PM on January 22, 2010


I remember reading Peter Maas' book. When he was a kid, he pinned a toy badge to his shirt, and when he was asked to play ball by other kids, he'd say "I can't. I'm on a case!" This guy lived to be a cop. And that's who managed to get hounded out and nearly killed.
posted by jonmc at 3:22 PM on January 22, 2010


What a class act. Glad to see he managed to have a real life after his troubles with the NYPD.

Good movie too, even if the outfits were a little shabby.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:30 PM on January 22, 2010


Glad to see that royalties from Maas' book supported him comfortably for the rest of his life. It would have been a terrible result of his honesty and sacrifice, for him to live with nothing but whatever meager pension he could squeeze out of the force that tried to kill him.
posted by fatbird at 3:33 PM on January 22, 2010


The movie is great, too. My favorite scene is the one with Cornelia Sharpe in the bathtub.

Hawt!
posted by elder18 at 3:47 PM on January 22, 2010


This is what happens when you join a gang.
posted by rocket88 at 3:49 PM on January 22, 2010 [18 favorites]


Serpico is someone I've always admired; I'm glad to hear he is writing a book. It will definitely be on my must-read list.
posted by TedW at 4:12 PM on January 22, 2010


I'm glad to be able to hear about a hero without needing to post a "."

FYI - you never need to post a "." Empty gestures are empty.

And Al Pacino is the greatest.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:14 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Every police department needs a man like this, and how many do you suppose have them?

(Unfortunately, I can never think of Serpico's name without thinking of a particular strip of "Pathetic Geek Stories." A eleven-year-old girl read a copy of Serpico back in the '80s, then called the local police department and demanded to know if they were corrupt. The officer assured her they weren't, and offered to let her tour the department. These days, the whole thing would probably result in a tasing.)
posted by Countess Elena at 4:23 PM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Poignant article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by squasha at 4:47 PM on January 22, 2010


Cool. I always assumed growing up that "Serpico" was a fictional character because... "Serpico??" It sounds like a Bond villain.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:55 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I saw the Serpico movie and was outraged. Then I found out it was real. !!!
posted by DU at 4:58 PM on January 22, 2010


Respect is never an 'empty gesture'; don't mistake "need to" for "have to".
posted by cookie-k at 5:07 PM on January 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


This is what happens when you join a gang.

Police derives its legitimacy to employ violence from society, including you, to protect common interest. If you take exception to the way the police or policemen handle themselves, you can either destroy the whole institution or try to reform the way it works. What do you propose to replace it and what have you contributed towards that change? Because if you don't have an answer, I'll go for someone who made a difference and paid the price over empty snark.
posted by ersatz at 5:09 PM on January 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


ersatz,

There's some real data out there regarding perceptions of legitimacy:

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2009/03/losing_confidence.html

In general, it's dropping -- for everything, except perhaps the military. But note, the military is the one institution above all else that Americans think isn't going to have any direct interaction with them.
posted by effugas at 5:20 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll go for someone who made a difference and paid the price over empty snark.

Define "go for".
posted by clarknova at 5:42 PM on January 22, 2010


In general, it's dropping -- for everything, except perhaps the military.

That's pretty damn scary.
posted by DU at 6:03 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen the movie, but a kid at my school did a play based on it back in 1998.
posted by Legomancer at 6:32 PM on January 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


One of the least protected of our society are the whistle blowers. The examples are everywhere regardless of how much the establishment opines to the opposite. If you blow the whistle you will be persecuted. Be right, be the hero, and even in some circumstances you will be financially rewarded, but watch your back. Snitches are the lowest of the low, even when the people they protect are pond scum. Why that is makes an interesting social examination.
posted by caddis at 6:33 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


In general, it's dropping -- for everything, except perhaps the military.

I didn't notice anything specifically about the police there, but I'm willing to accept that its legitimacy is dropping. There's no lack of examples of wrong practices that lead to bad press and a drop in legitimacy. Of course, the strictest standards ought to apply to the police, as they are charged to enforce our collective standards on individuals.

The issue of legitimacy is a serious one. If you don't like an institution, you can either change or tear it down and possibly replace it (neither option is an easy one). The alternatives to the police (groups of concerned citizens? people taking the law in their hands?) sound worse than an organisation that in theory at least is accountable, but needs reform and to be constantly scrutinised.

I have been on the wrong end of a night stick and I've worked at a practice that received cops. Each of them was different and even if many skewed more to the right than I'd like -too tired to phrase that more correctly, sorry-, I'd rather not depersonalise them.
(Not directed to you, effugas).

Define "go for".

Consider his contribution to police reform worthy of more than a dismissive response. Even if one has contempt for the way the police works, why not acknowledge a policeman who actually did something towards it.
posted by ersatz at 7:12 PM on January 22, 2010


For it, that is. Towards its reform.

That's why comments should also be scrutinised.
posted by ersatz at 7:18 PM on January 22, 2010


He said he had never seen the full movie

Incredible.
posted by stbalbach at 7:46 PM on January 22, 2010


My comment wasn't meant to be dismissive of Frank Serpico, ersatz. I have great respect for what he did. It was more of a general commentary on the police subculture, of which I have some experience.
Thanks for this post, Xurando.
posted by rocket88 at 8:10 PM on January 22, 2010


The issue of legitimacy is a serious one. If you don't like an institution, you can either change or tear it down and possibly replace it (neither option is an easy one). The alternatives to the police (groups of concerned citizens? people taking the law in their hands?) sound worse than an organisation that in theory at least is accountable, but needs reform and to be constantly scrutinised.

I don't think anyone thinks we should get rid of the police. Talk about a strawman.
posted by delmoi at 8:53 PM on January 22, 2010


Pretty awesome guy. I love this anecdote:

When asked by Al Pacino why he did it,

"Well, Al, I don't know. I guess I would have to say it would be because ... if I didn't, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?"
posted by BigSky at 9:20 PM on January 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


I literally cannot imagine there being a famous movie made about my life -- a movie that makes my story fair game for Trivial Pursuit questions -- and not watching it even once over the course of forty years. Of course, I also cannot imagine what it's like to be shot in the face...
posted by voltairemodern at 10:48 PM on January 22, 2010


wow, I didn't know about this story. thanks for sharing.
posted by krautland at 11:29 PM on January 22, 2010


When asked by Al Pacino why he did it,

"Well, Al, I don't know. I guess I would have to say it would be because ... if I didn't, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?"


Jesus Christ—that quote just floored me. I liked the movie OK, but now I really want to read up on this guy some more.
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:12 AM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone thinks we should get rid of the police. Talk about a strawman.

ACAB can surely be read that way.
posted by ersatz at 2:53 AM on January 23, 2010


Cool. I always assumed growing up that "Serpico" was a fictional character because... "Serpico??" It sounds like a Bond villain.

Nah, that's Hank Scorpio
posted by mikelieman at 4:18 AM on January 23, 2010


Frank, you enter stage left with the bag of cocaine.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:37 AM on January 23, 2010


.
posted by RussHy at 7:28 AM on January 23, 2010


The place where Serpico first met with Whitman Knappwas in the basement of Cafe Torino in the West Village, which used to be where I went for my Birthday Dinner every year and knowing that bit of history made the baked mozzarella even better. It got gutted a few years ago, and I haven't the heart to go back.

Also Edward Albee got the title of Who's Afriad Of Virgina Wolf" from some graffiti in the bathroom there
posted by The Whelk at 8:18 AM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Respect is never an 'empty gesture'; don't mistake "need to" for "have to".

It is when you only do it because you feel you're obligated to. I'd bet many of the habitual dot-posters even do it for people they'd never heard of before they read the post. You say "SACRED TRADITION", I say "conformity".
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:13 AM on January 23, 2010


I mean, if you really had any strong opinion or feelings whatsoever about the deceased, you could come up with more than a fucking punctuation mark. Dots are only posted because it's "what's you do" when someone, anyone, dies. It's only done to be seen doing the popular thing.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:18 AM on January 23, 2010


The atmosphere does not yet exist in Metafilter in which an honest sentiment can stand without fear of ridicule or reprisal from fellow posters.
posted by mazola at 10:03 AM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dots are only posted because it's "what's you do" when someone, anyone, dies. It's only done to be seen doing the popular thing.

Well, I'm sorry you feel such pressure to conform. That doesn't mean everyone else does, or that their reasons for acting are precisely as you imagine them.
posted by Scattercat at 12:33 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 2:45 PM on January 23, 2010


I have the utmost respect for Frank Serpico. Risked his life for doing the right thing. But, he is one weird friggin dude.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:22 AM on January 24, 2010


Serpico is stone cold incorruptible even when up against two crooked fake Philadelphia cops and Special Agent Bauer The Cat. (Hulu Video... USA only probably, sorry)
posted by toftflin at 9:43 AM on January 24, 2010


becoming the first police officer in the United States to voluntarily give evidence against a fellow policeman

[Citation Needed]

I am guessing it came from this wiki page:

Frank Serpico was the first police officer in the history of the New York Police Department to step forward to report and subsequently testify openly about widespread, systemic corruption payoffs amounting to millions of dollars.

But even that, I think is B.S. Off the top of my head, the Lexow Committee and Max Schmittberger:

Schmittberger was assigned to the "Broadway squad" during the 1870s and 1880s where he and John Price became closely associated with the then head of the so-called "Tenderloin district" Captain Alexander "Clubber" Williams. He later testified before the Lexow Committee, agreeing to turn state's evidence, and implicated a number of high-level police officials involved in police corruption.
posted by jckll at 1:46 PM on January 25, 2010


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