November 08, 2012
The Cop Who Could Not Be Bought
The whistleblower poses no single entity, whether it being a single person or a business as a whole, to count itself immune to the dangers of corruption or malfeasance. Those who blow the whistle can neither risk the silencing of themselves for reasons of concrete evidence that question the proper moral and ethical interests of the public eye. According to Sissela Bok, “’Whistleblowing’ is a new label generated by our increased awareness of ethical conflicts encountered at work. Whistleblowers sound an alarm from within the very organization in which they work, aiming to spotlight neglect or abuses that threaten the public interest.” Take Frank Serpico, for example, a man whom was willing to risk his life, yet alone his career, to sound the alarm on the corruption within the very organization for which he worked for, the New York Police Department. Here in my discussion, we will examine and discuss Serpico’s case in correlation to the points made by Sissela Bok’s discussion on whistleblowing.
In September of 1959, Frank Serpico joined the New York Police Department as a probationary patrolman. After working restlessly for several months, Serpico was then promoted as a full-time patrolman in March of 1960. He was then assigned to the 81st police precinct, where he was exposed to arresting people in drugs, prostitution, and gambling. As an upstanding police officer, Serpico was offered numerous bribes under his new department but refused to accept them from criminals. Soon enough, he discovered that many of his fellow officers saw these bribes as something else, frequently accepting them and pocketing evidence as well. After witnessing continuous accounts of corruption within the system and the ever-growing stress brought upon him; in 1967 Serpico decided to report “the systematic and widespread corruption” to the police department, soon to find that his report would fail and nothing would be done.
Standing alone as an outcast in his precinct for being called a rat, he then allied himself with a fellow officer by the name of David Dirk, who believed in the same cause as Serpico to stop the widespread corruption within the NYPD. After numerous attempts in reaching high officials within the NYPD, Serpico frustrated with the bureaucracy and corruption of the department, decided to go public with the case and blow the whistle. As a result of going public with the story, Serpico received numerous death threats and was even assaulted by many of his fellow officers prior to and leading up to the publication. On April 25, 1970, his story finally reached the front page of the New York Times, causing a strong uprising. The publishing of the article caused the mayor of New York, John Lindsay, out of embarrassment to appoint a commission to fix the corruption, eventually known as the Knapp Commission.
Following the publication of Serpico’s story, he was then assigned to narcotics investigation where he worked with officers whom he had exposed. Though the corruption had not yet been fully addressed, he continued to work knowing he was vulnerable to other officers. Eventually, that vulnerability caught up to him; on the 3rd of February 1971, Serpico and three other officers found themselves involved in a drug bust. The bust left him with a gunshot wound to the face, and the incident was then thought to be a set-up by the three fellow officers whom all fled the scene, leaving Serpico bleeding to death. If it hadn’t been for an elderly gentleman who called 911 after seeing him lying on the floor, Serpico may have not survived that very incident. The result of the drug bust left Serpico deaf in his left ear and fragments of bone lodged in his jaw and brain, leaving him with permanent chronic pain.
The aftermath of the incident grew Serpico’s story even more thus gaining more of the public’s interest. A few months later, on May 10,...