Frank Serpico, The Original Whistleblower, Was NYPD's Good Cop

By | December 4, 2019

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Al Pacino as Frank Serpico in the 1973 movie 'Serpico.' Source: IMDB

Frank Serpico is a former New York City cop whose anti-corruption stance made him unpopular in the NYPD. Ultimately, though, his whistleblowing efforts to call out the wrongdoing of the force and restore its reputation made him a symbol of honor, and his story was the subject of an acclaimed 1973 film starring Al Pacino.

The son of an Italian immigrant, Serpico joined the New York City Police Department in 1959. He tried to report the rampant corruption in the department to high ranking officials who looked the other way. When Serpico’s attempts failed to get results, he went to The New York Times in 1970. In a series of articles written by David Burnham, The New York Times reported that officers were making millions of dollars each year from drug dealers, mobsters, and small businesses. His actions forced Mayor John Lindsay to form the Knapp Commission which helped to bring reforms to the department.

Serpico Did Not Act Alone

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Frank Serpico, who sparked an investigation into corruption. Source: (

David Durk, another officer, had graduated from Amherst and had connections in the city. He brought Serpico to Jay Kriegel, who was an aide to Mayor Lindsay. Lindsay did not take action and Durk then took Serpico to The New York Times. Although Lindsay tried to discredit Serpico, the Times confirmed what Serpico had reported.