They Wished They Were Honest: The Knapp Commission and New York City Police Corruptionby Michael F. Armstrong
In fifty years of prosecuting and defending criminal cases in New York City and elsewhere,Michael F. Armstrong has often dealt with cops. For a single two-year span, as chief counsel to the Knapp Commission, he was charged with investigating them. Based on Armstrong's vivid recollections of this watershed moment in law enforcement accountabilityprompted by
In fifty years of prosecuting and defending criminal cases in New York City and elsewhere,Michael F. Armstrong has often dealt with cops. For a single two-year span, as chief counsel to the Knapp Commission, he was charged with investigating them. Based on Armstrong's vivid recollections of this watershed moment in law enforcement accountabilityprompted by the New York Times's report on whistleblower cop Frank SerpicoThey Wished They Were Honest recreates the dramatic struggles and significance of the Commission and explores the factors that led to its success and the restoration of the NYPD's public image.
Serpico's charges against the NYPD encouraged Mayor John Lindsay to appoint prominent attorney Whitman Knapp to chair a Citizen's Commission on police graft. Overcoming a number of organizational, budgetary, and political hurdles, Chief Counsel Armstrong cobbled together an investigative group of a half-dozen lawyers and a dozen agents. Just when funding was about to run out, the "blue wall of silence" collapsed. A flamboyant "Madame," a corrupt lawyer, and a weasely informant led to a "super thief" cop, who was trapped and "turned" by the Commission. This led to sensational and revelatory hearings, which publicly refuted the notion that departmental corruption was limited to only a "few rotten apples."
In the course of his narrative, Armstrong illuminates police investigative strategy; governmental and departmental political maneuvering; ethical and philosophical issues in law enforcement; the efficacy (or lack thereof) of the police's anticorruption efforts; the effectiveness of the training of police officers; the psychological and emotional pressures that lead to corruption; and the effects of police criminality on individuals and society. He concludes with the effects, in today's world, of Knapp and succeeding investigations into police corruption and the value of permanent outside monitoring bodies, such as the special prosecutor's office, formed in response to the Commission's recommendation, as well as the current monitoring commission, of which Armstrong is chairman.
Stephen J. Fearon
This is a cracking good story with implications that extend far beyond New York in the 1960s.... Recommended.
- Columbia University Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Meet the Author
Michael F. Armstrong is a partner at the law firm Lankler and Carragher in New York. He was the chief counsel to the Knapp Commission and an assistant United States attorney in theSouthern District of New York (chief, Securities Fraud Unit), as well as district attorney for Queens County, New York. Currently chair of the New York City Commission to Combat Police Corruption, he served as advisor to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo regarding allegations of political influence in the state police and continues to work on high-profile cases, which have involved such people as financier Louis Wolfson, boxing promoter Don King, accused would-be wife killer Claus von Bülow, and Queens County Borough President Donald Manes.
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