Yesterday, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said that the current federal investigation into corruption in his department is likely the worst since the Knapp Commission—the municipal probe into the department prompted by Frank Serpico way back in 1970. But really, compared to that, this latest scandal is boring as hell.
Forty years ago, NYPD corruption was bloody and dramatic: The Knapp Commission uncovered cops who covered up a mob murder, who bought drugs, who sold out an informant to gangsters who wanted to kill him. This year’s scandal is about...high-ranking officers who let a fancy businessman buy them trips to the Caribbean? Something like that? I read and write about the NYPD just about every day and even I can’t bring myself to care that much about it.
You don’t even need to go back to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s to find corruption worthy of adaptation into a gritty, street-level thriller. In the early ‘90s, New York had Michael Dowd, who used to drive a red Corvette purchased with drug money into work every day, and whose forays into cocaine trafficking inspired the Mollen Commission, the spiritual successor to Knapp. About a decade before that, there was the 77th Precinct scandal, in which one cop was so freaked out about his own drug- and gun-running that he asked his buddy to shoot him so he could leave the department on disability pension and escape the prying eyes of internal investigators. Even last month’s Queens Karaoke bar protection racket was more interesting than the current FBI investigation.
Times Square’s sex carnivals and drug dealers have been replaced by wax statues and sneaker stores; and coke-slinging cops have been replaced by a chief of department who bought a custom-made backgammon set for his rich friend.
Give me secret meetings on dank streets under elevated trains. Give me blinking neon lights, give me prostitutes, give me stimulant-induced paranoia. Give me a car chase! It’s not that this latest scandal isn’t bad, or that the people involved shouldn’t be prosecuted. I’m just saying: Would it kill them to be a little more entertaining? To borrow language from a thousand thinkpieces about the changing city, what we’re looking at is the corporate, sanitized version of NYPD corruption.