The Police Are Still Out of Control

In the opening scene of the 1973 movie “Serpico,” I am shot in the face—or to be more accurate, the character of Frank Serpico, played by Al Pacino, is shot in the face. Even today it’s very difficult for me to watch those scenes, which depict in a very realistic and terrifying way what actually happened to me on Feb. 3, 1971. I had recently been transferred to the Narcotics division of the New York City Police Department, and we were moving in on a drug dealer on the fourth floor of a walk-up tenement in a Hispanic section of Brooklyn. The police officer backing me up instructed me (since I spoke Spanish) to just get the apartment door open “and leave the rest to us.”

One officer was standing to my left on the landing no more than eight feet away, with his gun drawn; the other officer was to my right rear on the stairwell, also with his gun drawn. When the door opened, I pushed my way in and snapped the chain. The suspect slammed the door closed on me, wedging in my head and right shoulder and arm. I couldn’t move, but I aimed my snub-nose Smith & Wesson revolver at the perp (the movie version unfortunately goes a little Hollywood here, and has Pacino struggling and failing to raise a much-larger 9-millimeter automatic). From behind me no help came. At that moment my anger got the better of me. I made the almost fatal mistake of taking my eye off the perp and screaming to the officer on my left: “What the hell you waiting for? Give me a hand!” I turned back to face a gun blast in my face. I had cocked my weapon and fired back at him almost in the same instant, probably as reflex action, striking him. (He was later captured.)

When I regained consciousness, I was on my back in a pool of blood trying to assess the damage from the gunshot wound in my cheek. Was this a case of small entry, big exit, as often happens with bullets? Was the back of my head missing? I heard a voice saying, “Don’ worry, you be all right, you be all right,” and when I opened my eyes I saw an old Hispanic man looking down at me like Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan. My “backup” was nowhere in sight. They hadn’t even called for assistance—I never heard the famed “Code 1013,” meaning “Officer Down.” They didn’t call an ambulance either, I later learned; the old man did. One patrol car responded to investigate, and realizing I was a narcotics officer rushed me to a nearby hospital (one of the officers who drove me that night said, “If I knew it was him, I would have left him there to bleed to death,” I learned later).

The next time I saw my “back-up” officers was when one of them came to the hospital to bring me my watch. I said, “What the hell am I going to do with a watch? What I needed was a back-up. Where were you?” He said, “Fuck you,” and left. Both my “back-ups” were later awarded medals for saving my life.

I still don’t know exactly what happened on that day. There was never any real investigation. But years later, Patrick Murphy, who was police commissioner at the time, was giving a speech at one of my alma maters, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and I confronted him. I said, “My name is Frank Serpico, and I’ve been carrying a bullet in my head for over 35 years, and you, Mr. Murphy, are the man I hold responsible. You were the man who was brought as commissioner to take up the cause that I began — rooting out corruption. You could have protected me; instead you put me in harm’s way. What have you got to say?” He hung his head, and had no answer.

Even now, I do not know for certain why I was left trapped in that door by my fellow police officers. But the Narcotics division was rotten to the core, with many guys taking money from the very drug dealers they were supposed to bust. I had refused to take bribes and had testified against my fellow officers. Police make up a peculiar subculture in society. More often than not they have their own moral code of behavior, an “us against them” attitude, enforced by a Blue Wall of Silence. It’s their version of the Mafia’s omerta. Speak out, and you’re no longer “one of us.” You’re one of “them.” And as James Fyfe,  a nationally recognized expert on the use of force, wrote in his 1993 book about this issue, Above The Law, officers who break the code sometimes won’t be helped in emergency situations, as I wasn’t.

Forty-odd years on, my story probably seems like ancient history to most people, layered over with Hollywood legend. For me it’s not, since at the age of 78 I’m still deaf in one ear and I walk with a limp and I carry fragments of the bullet near my brain. I am also, all these years later, still persona non grata in the NYPD. Never mind that, thanks to Sidney Lumet’s direction and Al Pacino’s brilliant acting, “Serpico” ranks No. 40 on the American Film Institute’s list of all-time movie heroes, or that as I travel around the country and the world, police officers often tell me they were inspired to join the force after seeing the movie at an early age.

In the NYPD that means little next to my 40-year-old heresy, as they see it. I still get hate mail from active and retired police officers. A couple of years ago after the death of David Durk — the police officer who was one of my few allies inside the department in my efforts to expose graft —  the Internet message board “NYPD Rant” featured some choice messages directed at me. “Join your mentor, Rat scum!” said one. An ex-con recently related to me that a precinct captain had once said to him, “If it wasn’t for that fuckin’ Serpico, I coulda been a millionaire today.” My informer went on to say, “Frank, you don’t seem to understand, they had a well-oiled money making machine going and you came along and threw a handful of sand in the gears.”

In 1971 I was awarded the Medal of Honor, the NYPD’s highest award for bravery in action, but it wasn’t for taking on an army of corrupt cops. It was most likely due to the insistence of Police Chief Sid Cooper, a rare good guy who was well aware of the murky side of the NYPD that I’d try to expose. But they handed the medal to me like an afterthought, like tossing me a pack of cigarettes. After all this time, I’ve never been given a proper certificate with my medal. And although living Medal of Honor winners are typically invited to yearly award ceremonies, I’ve only been invited once — and it was by Bernard Kerick, who ironically was the only NYPD commissioner to later serve time in prison. A few years ago, after the New York Police Museum refused my guns and other memorabilia, I loaned them to the Italian-American museum right down street from police headquarters, and they invited me to their annual dinner. I didn’t know it was planned, but the chief of police from Rome, Italy, was there, and he gave me a plaque. The New York City police officers who were there wouldn’t even look at me.

Read all of this at Politico. Better read it, this is written by someone who knows cops!

eye in broken mirror


The Life and Death of the Great American Halloween Pop-Up Store

What can the vicissitudes of a very nichey (and spooky) industry teach us about the economic recovery?

A hearty “congrats” to the Halloween real estate agents out there, who—after nearly a year of scrambling—are hopefully on their well-deserved vacations. It’s boom time for the Halloween Industrial Complex, which, according to the National Retail Federation, will generate $7.4 billion this year. And some of that money will surely be spent inside Halloween pop-ups, those temporary Halloween stores that materialize in your local strip mall around September and vanish by sometime in mid-November. (Like ghosts, some might say.) But for the real estate agents who hammer out the deals that create such stores, this is downtime. Happy Holidays, indeed.

How, exactly, do those Halloween superstores end up where they are? And what can they tell us about the inside workings of the nation’s recovering economy? A lot, it turns out.

First, a bit about the timeline of Halloween real estate. The scramble can begin, as the hangovers do, as early as November 1st. “The minute our door is closed, we are—or actually even before our doors close—we are prepping for the next season,” Frank Pacera, the senior director of real estate for the temporary holiday giant Spirit Halloween, told the Kimco Realty blog in 2012. (There are over 1,100 pop-up Spirit Halloween locations in North America this year, according to the company.) Assuming a particular temporary Halloween store did pretty well, the goal is simple: Get back into that space the next year. The more consistent Halloween pop-ups are with their locations, the more return visitors they’ll get. Other priorities: “Ideally, we look at traffic counts, visibility from the road, we look at our retail neighbors, who’s in the vicinity of the empty spot,” says Randy Koziatek, who handles real estate for Halloween Express, another major holiday outlet.

The season for Halloween real estate gets really hot just as you’re schlepping your dried-out Christmas tree to the curb—around February. That’s when real estate managers start putting in calls to their favorite big-time commercial real-estate portfolio holders, mostly those who handle leases for large shopping centers. “It’s a personal relationship—I speak to them regularly,” says another real estate coordinator at Halloween Express, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Then it’s conference season. The International Council of Shopping Centers holds a big event annual event in Las Vegas in May. SPREE, the “world’s largest event for the cart, kiosk, and temporary retail industry,” also takes place in the spring. (It’s combining forces with the ICSC for the first time in 2015.) While there, real estate agents put out their feelers: Whose properties might be empty come Labor Day?

What few deals are signed this early usually contain a kick-out clause, according to Halloween Express’ agents. Landlords, who typically angle for permanent five to 10 year leases, get spooked about signing temporary holiday leases for just a few months. But the property owners warm up to the idea by mid-summer, as it becomes increasingly clear that they can choose between an empty store or a temporary lease, for which Halloween retailers generally pay top dollar. (“Halloween store typically pay more rent than any other concept,” says the Halloween Express agent). Most leases, for six to eight weeks, are signed between June 15th and August 1st. (Though one real estate agent told me he squeaked in, securing a lease this year in early October.) Halloween Express hopes to get in and out of stores, including set-up and disassembly, in less than 90 days, leaving the store an empty shell by November 15th at the latest.

Much more to read HERE.


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