Serpico: True Story of Police Corruption

The movie, “Serpico”, (Maas, 1973) was based on a true story about Frank Serpico, a New York police officer who wanted to expose the corruption in law enforcement and went undercover in order to reveal their criminal activity. He is offered a share of the money in which the corrupt officers share and when he refuses to take part in their activity, he is shunned by his fellow officers and they don’t want to work with him and he remains in danger because he chooses to be honest.

Serpico understands that the other officers in his force, are likely to place him in a position that is ultimately, life threatening.

Al Pacino plays the role of Frank Serpico, in this movie, who was a real life NYPD detective, (Cannan, 1997) who almost died because of his loyalty to his belief that good cops really do exist. Even when Serpico talks to his superiors in his department, he gets nowhere. Police Commissioner, White acted as if he didn’t care about Serpico’s concerns and ignored his plea for help.

The Real Serpico

Serpico was sure that there were as many crooked cops working in New York City, as there were criminals. He remains loyal, throughout the movie, to his strong belief that police officers should be trustworthy, even though it places his own life in imminent danger. When Commissioner White doesn’t help, Serpico took his plea to a New York Times editor. With the scandal being talked about causes the mayor of New York City to conduct an intense investigation; The Knapp Commission, into Frank Serpico’s bold claims.

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Frank Serpico became a police officer in 1960 when he had faith in law enforcement and thought that criminals were arrested with traditional methods without using excessive force while arresting them. Seeing all the corruption, Serpico wanted to refrain from joining in one the corruption and asks another officer, by the name of Bob Blair, whom he trusts, to help him in his battle against criminal activity within the New York City police force.

Eventually, Serpico went to court, in order to expose the corrupt officers who had tried for so long to bring him down. He testified to the fact that he had witnessed the corruption with his own eyes. The definition of corruption is described as “forbidden acts involving misuse of office for gain.” (Trautman, 1997)

Author, Jack Gattanella tells us about the movie, “Serpico. “ He says, “The real powerhouse performance by Pacino, thirty years down the line, still one of his finest.” Al Pacino was perfect for the role of Frank Serpico. Pacino depicted Serpico as an honest and good natured cop who only wanted to do the right thing while exposing those officers who weren’t.

Global standards to combat corruption in police forces and services, (Interpol, 2007) have a duty to ensure honesty and ethical behavior and should use force in normal boundaries, in police departments. Frank Serpico (U.S. News, 2007) states that, “Frank Serpico, the former New York City cop who became a symbol for police honesty, lashed out at society’s leaders.”

Serpico continues to hold strong to his faith that society can be led by honest individuals who hold police positions. From the very beginning of the story, where Al Pacino is slumped over in his car seat and dripping blood on his car seat, on his way to the hospital to get treatment for his injuries from being shot, the movie is shown as flashbacks in Serpico’s mind as he thinks about his days of being an honest cop, until the end of the story where he is testifying against the corrupt officers who tried to kill him.

Police corruption still remains in our society as we read in Daniel J. Shanahan’s book, “Badges, Bullets and Bars”. (Shanahan, 2006) We learn a firsthand account of police disloyalty on the force as Shanahan tells us about some of his own experiences while being a cop. Frank Serpico was very courageous in his fight to show human decency and honesty in this movie. He left behind guidelines for all officers who work in law enforcement and will always be remembered as an early display of the way cops are supposed to perform in their duties.

In today’s society, there still remains corruption in law enforcement but we still do have loyal officers just like Frank Serpico who are truly dedicated to their careers and work toward upholding the proper standards of the law and not getting involved in pocketing money that doesn’t belong to them, while performing acts that are of criminal nature. “Serpico” proved to be both educational and enlightening about the corruption in New York City police forces.

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Serpico: True Story of Police Corruption. (2019, Dec 05). Retrieved from

Serpico: True Story of Police Corruption
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