Honesty is a character trait that is difficult to uphold when faced with moral dilemmas in the workplace. This is the challenge of Frank Serpico in the film Serpico. An analysis of the film “Serpico” leads to the realization that “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is completely valid. The movie “Serpico” demonstrates that the merit system and an outside agency are necessary to prevent systemic corruption within the Justice System. Systemic corruption appears to be facilitated, encouraged and protected by the “code of silence”.
For example, officers are taught by fellow officers how to use the authority given to them to advance the sub-culture of crime. This fact is a matter of debate. The question of crime in police departments is often blamed on unethical officers rather than the truth of the officers who are taught by superiors and veteran officers the means of crime. The bad apples or bad system debate is expressed in Serpico, indicating the confirmation that a bad system needs an outside agency to correct it.
This movie begs the question “Who was keeping an eye on the keepers of the peace among the New York Police Department?” The instrument of change in the movie is Frank Serpico making him the antagonist. The protagonists are the dark and corrupted of officers, and the supervisors who by omission participate in crime. The ideology that has perpetuated this systematic corruption is the promoting within the ranks based on who you are not what you do. In Serpico, it seems that the supervisors were very astute in the process of looking the other way. For this ability, they moved up among the chain of command. The distinct officer “code of silence” provided the cohesion that veils the subculture of crime perpetuated by the officers.
In the film, Frank Serpico’s only flaw was being an honest cop. In “Serpico” the minimization and neutralization of corruption becomes the justification for the actions of the officers who are unethical. This is the attempt to rationalize the acceptance of the blanket loss of ethics among the officers. Frank Serpico does not participate in the corruption and refuses to take the money offered to him. His complaints are ignored as he goes higher and higher up the chain of command.
The result of the complaints by Frank Serpico created an even more hostile work relationship with the other officers. The officers ostracize, threaten and fail to protect Frank to the point that leads to his injury. The atonement for the deeds of the police appears to be around the corner with every complaint lodged against the department, yet Serpico becomes placated in each meeting and by every supervisor, including the mayor. Political tolerance to corruption with no legal controls in place to prevent the un-ethical police sub-culture is unacceptable.
The epiphany of Serpico is that the systemic corruption creates the need to go to an outside agency. This action of going to an outside agency is not taken lightly in the film. Frank Serpico knows and displays regret for the violation of the “code of silence”. He is aware it is a trespass on the brotherhood. He has two other officers collaborate his story. Serpico feels that he must go to an outside agency to correct the corrupt and ethically bankrupt police department. This exposure allows for the creation of the Knapp Commission, which is evidenced at the end of the film
Regoli and Hewitt reveal in Exploring Criminal Justice that the New York Times series on police corruption prompted Mayor Lindsay to appoint five people to investigate corruption in the NYPD. Five people were appointed to and composed the Knapp Commission including Attorney Whitman Knapp who headed the Knapp Commission. The findings of the Knapp Commission suggested the organized corruption. Police Administrators accompanied and progressed with the breach of ethics by active cooperation and participation in the crimes or passively omitted to control...
Cited: Hewitt, R. a. (2007). Exploring Criminal Justice. Jones and Bartlett Publishing.
Kappeler, G. a. (2008). Policing in America. Elsevier.
Serpico, F. (2010, January 24). Frank Serpico of NYPD fame carries the torch for lamplighters. Retrieved from Examiner.com: http://www.examiner.com/article/frank-serpico-of-nypd-fame-carries-the-torch-for-lamplighters
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