Frank Serpico sets the record straight Part 2

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Editor’s Note: Read the complete series on New York’s finest Frank Serpico under Special Reports.

The other side of Serpico

Frank Serpico is a complex man, and I mean that in a good way.

His friends still call him “Paco,” which means Frank in Spanish, a nickname he picked up in the 1960s while traveling in Puerto Rico.

I sometimes didn’t know which Frank Serpico I was talking to; The tough ex-cop, who was known an expert shot and a karate expert when he was on the force, or the other Serpico; Animal lover, cook, gardener and defender of the underdog.

Chief Sid Cooper asked me when I retired what was I going to do with the rest of my life. I told him I’m going to live.

Frank has done exactly that. He has traveled all over the world and lectured all over the United States. He likes his solitude but also likes engaging in conversations with anyone and has no problem listening to others. Most people will be shocked to learn that this tough ex-cop is also an accomplished musician, skilled with several instruments, among them the clarinet. Frank has also performed in community theatre and has written poetry.

Serpico has a sense of humor and a quick wit. While I was writing this story, Frank sent me an email and said “Doug, if you want to take a break and laugh, watch this.” It was a link to a You Tube video of a segment of an episode on the TV series, Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Charlie Day’s character in the show is doing a skit impersonating Al Pacino playing Serpico. It’s hilarious, said Frank. He was right.

Nothing is going to change

Frank Serpico testifying against dirty cops. (Public Domain)

Frank Serpico will always be the preeminent role model for honesty and integrity in the law enforcement profession.

After part one of this story was published Frank called me.

I tell you Doug, I never thought I would see this all, I never thought until after I was dead, nobody would connect the dots. I’m grateful. The work and the research you did, that’s amazing.

You’ve been through that nightmare yourself they call justice. It’s the system that allows a corrupt cop to flourish. A cop like you gets fired, the good cops get punished. That’s all part of how the system works. It’s like I said, they want to deny, they don’t want you to upset the apple cart. These guys who shake your hand, they’re shaking their own hands, making them to be the good guys. When they shake your hand, it elevates them in the eyes of the public.

There are honest cops here and there, like yourself, who stood up for the truth. But where do you find other honest people in this country that have put their lives on the line for the truth?

Nothing is going to change. Every story I heard from cops like you, because I’m the clearinghouse; they want to keep the charade going, it’s all a lie. That’s the name of my book.  

People can’t understand. They don’t understand how the system works. You can’t explain the ocean to a well frog. It’s just amazing, this world we live in, the system of justice. Is it any wonder that an honest cop, you know, he can’t expose nothing? They’ll cream him.

I’m not a religious guy, but I believe in the spirituality and the good people that came before us. I believe in the words of Jesus. Look at what they did to him, they nailed him to the cross. If that’s what they did to him, what do you think they would do to the common man.

You can bill this story as an exclusive, that no one in my opinion has ever done this coverage in depth as you are doing. I read in so many places where they say exclusive, exclusive. They say it, but it’s not true.

I told Frank that I don’t consider myself a professional writer by any means. His response; Stop denigrating yourself, you’re a writer. It’s writing about what’s on your mind and not making up bullshit stories. These journalists today, they want everything handed to them.

Listen. Nobody can say anything bad about me, because I never did anything bad. That’s why I say to any of these guys that have anything to say about Serpico. Serpico is a human being, Serpico stood for justice. That was an entity and they wrote a book about him and they made a movie. That’s not my whole life.

Some of these guys that wrote books, they would pile up on me. They made me sound like I was a dummy. One of them wrote that I didn’t pass the sergeant’s exam. I did pass the sergeant’s exam and I have the civil service receipt to prove it. I was on the list.

They say in Latin, de mortis nihil nisi bonum, which means speak nothing but good of the dead. And I say, if you don’t want them to speak ill of you when you’re dead, then you should do well when you’re alive, because you don’t become sanctified when you die.  

Never wore a wire

Here’s another thing. This is in the documentary. Antonino found one of the two guys that were right there when I got shot. The guy said, there was no 10-13 [officer needs help], gee? Well why did that one police car show up, he said? I said one police car! If it was a signal 10-13, where were they? I said it was a Spanish man that called. It was a signal 10-10, investigate shots fired. These guys should have driven me to the hospital themselves. They didn’t do it.

The guy said, you know what. If you wanted to go after the bosses, go ahead, you wanted to do it, I didn’t want to do it, but you went after the little guy. Why didn’t you go after the bosses? I said, how do you do that? And then the director flashes to me testifying before the Knapp Commission and Chairman Knapp says to me, were you ever, did they ever offer to wire you? I said, yeah. What did you do, Knapp asked? I said I refused. Why, he asked. Because I didn’t want to get the cop I was working with. I wanted to get the bosses and the higher ups, where the problem lies.    

Maybe these cops will stop the bullshit now about I only went after the little guy. It was never my intention to get the cops.    

A “wire” refers to a body worn transmitter. Frank Serpico never wore a wire. That is documented in the records of the Knapp Commission.

Let me say this for clarity, in case people get mixed up. I had my own tape recorder. It was not a departmental tape recorder. It was an ITT Special that had a four-hour reel. It wasn’t used to get the cops. It was used to get the bosses. When the bosses were doing their investigation, like Sheridan and Saxon. I really wanted to get O’Neal because of that toilet scene thing. I was recording the bosses for my own protection.


Frank Serpico today

When I was home recuperating, I had just gotten out of the hospital. I was in a wheelchair, with migraine headaches. Now I’m lying there in bed, in the dark, and I got this bullet in my head and I’m thinking how am I going to get this bullet out of my head.

I got tormented by the cops every hour. The phone kept ringing. I would pick it up, they would say, fuck you. I took the phone off the hook.

So, that’s what they put me through.

When I had to go for check-ups while I was recuperating, any other cop, they would send a department car and pick them up. Not me. Non-available, take a cab, they would tell me.

This is what the NYPD did to me and I’ll never forget it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Cops still hate him

The New York Police Museum refused my guns and other memorabilia. I placed them on permanent loan to the Italian-American Museum down the street from police headquarters. They placed them right alongside memorabilia belonging to NYPD Lt. Joe Petrosino, the only NYPD police officer to be killed in the line of duty while outside of the country. Petrosino went on a secret assignment to Palermo, Sicily to investigate members of the Mafia. The Police Commissioner at the time, Bingham, gave the story to the newspapers while Petrosino was aboard the ship going to Italy. He was shot to death by Mafia assassins in Palermo on March 12, 1909.

I was invited to the museum’s annual dinner and not knowing it was planned, the chief of police of Rome, Italy was there and gave me a plaque. The New York City police officers who were in attendance wouldn’t even look at me.

There are former and current police officers that still hold a grudge against Frank Serpico because he exposed widespread corruption in the NYPD over forty-five years ago.

I asked Frank why does he think some police officers hate him even to this day, so much time has passed since he exposed corruption.

I’ll tell you why Doug. It’s because I showed them for what they were. Any cop that hates me, I can only say he’s a dirty cop or related to a dirty cop.

One day I was on this radio show and this cop calls in and said, you know Frank, the day you testified, the Knapp Commission was the darkest day for every cop in New York City. He said that he was ashamed to go home and face his wife and children. I said really, what did you do wrong. He said nothing. I said then why didn’t you come and back me up. And Doug that’s the bottom line for all those hair bags that are bitching; Why didn’t you talk and back me up. And you know what this guy shouted out without even thinking about it. He said what, and be an outcast like you.

Police are our first line of defense. They should be somebody that we look up to, admire and respect.Little kids should look up to cops, they shouldn’t be afraid of them.

When I was a cop they would say and I found it to be true, a cop’s job should be ten-percent perspiration, ninety-percent information. If you’re a good cop and the people have your back, man it’s the best job in the world.

You must begin with yourself, don’t try and change somebody else, if you don’t see how hard it is to change yourself.

This guy calls me up and says Frank, you’re not going to believe this. I was at Yankee Stadium talking to these young cops and I said do you know who Frank Serpico is, and they said who. I said you must be kidding me, but that’s the way it is. The New York City Police Department wants it like I never existed, because it’s the system, the system doesn’t change, it’s the individual that makes the difference.

Listen Doug, it’s something to deal with the system. To this day, Doug, do you know that Frank Serpico has never been invited to lecture at the NYPD police academy.

No certificate

Frank Serpico was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1971, the NYPD’s highest award for bravery in action. He was handed the Medal of Honor without ceremony. The NYPD never gave him the certificate that is usually given with the Medal of Honor.

Before I go any further, let me address something here.

To New York City Mayor, Bill De Blasio and Police Commissioner, James O’Neill. Do either of you two gentlemen have the authority to issue Frank Serpico his Medal of Honor certificate which he rightfully deserves? Come on guys, it’s been over four decades, do the right thing here!

I got the Medal of Honor and they won’t give me my certificate to show that I got it. I have asked every police commissioner for it. Although living Medal of Honor recipients are usually invited to the yearly award ceremonies, the only Medal of Honor ceremony I was invited to was when Bernie Kerick was the police commissioner. He was the guy who went to prison and now he’s trying to reform himself as a good guy. He wanted to get in touch but I didn’t trust him because while he was in prison he was still wheeling and dealing. He talks about reform but he didn’t reform himself, he’s just trying to make a better image for himself.

There was one good police commissioner in the history of the NYPD and that was Teddy Roosevelt.“I inherited the most corrupt agency in the country,” he said. That’s where the NYPD comes from.

In the movie, they gave me the detective shield in the hospital, that’s bullshit. And here’s another thing that nobody wants to believe. They gave me a detective shield, but you know what grade they gave me? Third grade. They could have given me first grade, then that would have been a reward. They didn’t give me crap.

One cop that I knew, he was an honest cop, wouldn’t take a nickel. I was working with him. He said Paco, you can’t keep chipping away at the foundation with nothing to replace it with. I said to him, until the whole damn foundation is crumbled and you start from the beginning, it will never change.

You can read Part 1 here.

Check out Part 3.