The chief counsel for a group charged with ferreting out endemic corruption in the NYPD during the 1970s said the so-called blue wall of silence is a fabrication.
Michael Armstrong, who ran day-to-day operations for an anti-police corruption unit, told WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show on Wednesday that the idea police officers lie to protect one another is false.
“The Blue Wall of Silence we found to be something of a myth,” he said. “It turns out we had a total of six cops that we caught, and five of them talked.”
Armstrong headed the Knapp Commission, a body formed by Mayor John Lindsay after whistle-blowing NYPD officer Frank Serpico exposed corruption within the department through a New York Times article.
Serpico – made famous by a Sidney Lumet’s biopic – was the “trigger” that allowed rampant corruption to come to light, according to Armstrong. “He was really a hero,” he said, “because no one was willing to admit what everyone could see.”
WNYC caught up with Serpico last fall. The cop who was shot in the face during a drug bust and drew the ire of an entire department lives a quiet life, in a one-room cabin he built himself about three hours north of New York City:
“How many years is it now?” Serpico said, smiling, during a recent interview. “Forty years. I got a bullet in my head, and I’m still here.”
After joining the NYPD in 1959, Serpico refused to become one more officer accepting bribe. Instead, he turned into the most famous cop to break the blue wall of silence.
On a typical day, he usually gets up around 6:30 a.m., meditates by playing Japanese bamboo flute and makes his own meals using only organic food he buys in farmers markets (he wears a magnifying glass around his neck so he can check ingredients).
The NYPD told WNYC last fall that there were nearly as many cops fighting corruption and prosecuting police officers internally as there are police assigned to counter terrorism.
“Far, far different from when Frank Serpico was a police officer,” Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the department