FindingDulcinea.com by Anita Gutierrez-Folch - April 14, 2009
Former New York City police officer Frank Serpico is the archetype of the “honest cop.” In 1971, he testified about the rampant corruption in the NYPD to the Knapp Commission. Regarded as a hero by some and a “rat” by others, Frank Serpico became a living example of the sacrifices made by those who hold to the ideals of justice and truth. Frank Serpico was born on April 14, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York, to immigrants from the Italian province of Naples. When Serpico turned 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for two years in Korea. Upon his return, he enrolled as a student in Brooklyn College and worked as a youth counselor and a part-time private investigator. At age 23, Serpico joined the New York City Police Department, where he worked as a police officer for 12 years. During his time with the NYPD, Frank struggled to avoid the extensive web of bribery and corruption that pervaded the department. For 10 years, Frank filed numerous complaints about the behavior of his colleagues, but the majority of his efforts went unheeded, until he spoke to The New York Times about the problem.
However, it was clear that remaining on the force was untenable; Frank Serpico resigned from the NYPD on June 15, 1972. Before departing, he was awarded a Medal of Honor for his bravery. Serpico moved to Europe, where he married. He returned to the United States in the 1980s and settled in upstate New York. Peter Maas adapted Serpico’s story into a bestselling book; the 1973 blockbuster film version starred Al Pacino in the title role. The character of Frank Serpico, the courageous whistle-blower, earned the 40th heroic spot in the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest heroes and villains in film. On June 7, 2005, Frank Serpico was invited as an honored guest to the opening of the exhibit titled “Americans Who Tell the Truth,” a collaborative project of Community Works, The Harlem Arts Alliance, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Columbia University. The exhibit—featuring Frank Serpico’s portrait along with those of Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes and Malcolm X, among others—was a tribute to the many distinguished and outspoken Americans who strove to uphold the ideals of truth and justice even in the face of adversity.