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  • Writer's pictureDave Freedman

Bent Cops & Corrupt PDs

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

Here are five books, all compelling and revolting, about cops who are not the honest, courageous, heroic sort. They are the corrupt, brutal, racist, sexist, cowardly sort.

NYPD Blue Lies: The Shocking True Story of Racism, Corruption, Cover-Ups and Murder in the NYPD By Charles Castro Arbor Books, 2009, 320 pages

When a New York City cop issued a traffic ticket to a state Senator, the politician called a top-ranking member of the NYPD and asked for a favor. That call started a chain of events that resulted in the horrific murder of an innocent woman. The NYPD’s connection to the murder was covered up, and the police brass set up police sergeant Charles Castro as the scapegoat.

But Castro refused to roll over, and struggled to prove his innocence. His book reveals rampant corruption in the department, and paints a scathing portrait of Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

NYPD Confidential: Power and Corruption in the Country’s Greatest Police Force By Leonard Levitt Thomas Dunne Books, 2009, 320 pages

As a reporter for Newsday, Levitt covered the NYPD, the world’s largest law enforcement agency with 35,000 cops. He witnessed heroism, but this book is about scandal. He observed that corruption wasn’t just a rank-and-file phenomenon, but it permeated the highest levels of the department (as well as City Hall). Frank Serpico said, “It’s a fascinating read. I couldn’t put it down.”

Police Unbound: Corruption, Abuse, and Heroism by the Boys in Blue By Anthony V. Bouza Prometheus, 2001, 303 pages

The majority of cops perform daily acts of individual heroism that go unrecognized, says Bouza, who joined the NYPD in 1953 and rose through the ranks to Minneapolis chief of police before retiring in 1989. But he portrays police departments collectively as agencies that primarily protect the interests of the “white, moneyed overclass.” For the non-white underclass, they are characterized by neglect at best and systemized brutality at worst. “The temptations to abuse are everywhere, and practically irresistible,” he says. This book, which is part memoir and part how-to manual for police departments, is written “with humor, surprising insights, and questions of social justice that may unnerve many readers,” said Publishers Weekly.

Satan’s Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York’s Trial of the Century By Mike Dash Three Rivers Press, 2008, 464 pages

Satan’s Circus was the vice district of Manhattan in the first two decades of the 1900s, featuring saloons, dance halls, houses of prostitution, and casinos. This book focuses on NYPD lieutenant Charles Becker, who worked undercover in the Circus as leader of a vice squad—as well as a vast extortion racket. He earned a reputation for extreme corruption and brutality. In 1912 Becker was convicted of murdering a gambler and pimp, and became the only cop to be executed in U.S. history. His trial both fascinated and divided the city, as some believed he was innocent, set up by powerful mobsters, cops, and/or politicians. Becker himself was as tall, handsome, and articulate as he was repelling.

Brotherhood of Corruption: A Cop Breaks the Silence on Police Abuse, Brutality, and Racial Profiling By Juan Antonio Juarez Chicago Review Press, 2004, 320 pages

The author was a Chicago cop, working in an elite narcotics unit. He observed police brutality, racism, sexual abuse of female suspects, and “horrific” and “harrowing” corruption of all sorts, including the violent sort. Did he courageously expose this alarming betrayal of public trust, as did the hero Frank Serpico, while he was employed by the police department? No, he became one of the abusers, then he got busted, and then, when exposing corruption no longer required courage, he wrote this book and is still earning royalties from the story — the moral of which is that the most terrifying gang in town is the corrupt police unit.


About the reviewer: Dave Freedman has worked as a legal and financial journalist since 1978.

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