Police officers have a bond like no other - both to each other and their communities. Sometimes called the "thin blue line," officers are sworn to protect people against the horrible things of the world. But what happens when that bond is broken, and police officers aren't the ones stopping crime but creating it? Sadly, there are plenty of examples of cops who committed heinous crimes, and often the only reason these rogue cops are caught is thanks to whistleblowers in police departments.
These whistleblower cops should be counted among the most honorable and noble police officers because of their dedication to justice. These anti-corruption cops were against the misdeeds of their fellow officers, and fought against the system when they saw something wrong. Some of them were hailed as heroes, while the others paid dire consequences.
Francesco "Frank" Serpico was one of the original whistleblower cops in modern times. He joined the NYPD in September 1959. During his time in the police academy, Serpico said many of his fellow students complained about being off the streets during their time in school because they were missing out on illegal payoffs called "the nut."
Serpico began speaking about the corruption in the department, and he was reportedly told to "go along" with the other officers. He continued complaining, and was ostracized from the officers he worked with. Realizing he wasn't getting anywhere within the system, Serpico took his story of police corruption to the New York Times, which printed a story in 1970 detailing how corrupt cops were making more than $1 million a year from their shady dealings with drug dealers and gangsters. City Hall demanded an investigation.
Serpico became even more hated in his department when he testified in June 1970 against fellow officers for taking bribes and receiving payoffs. During a drug arrest attempt in Brooklyn on February 3, 1971, Serpico faced an armed assailant and called for back-up, but the three officers conducting the raid with him failed to respond. The assailant shot Serpico in the face with a .22 pistol, the bullet lodging just below his eye.
Serpico's fellow officers left him to bleed out rather than call in a "Officer Down." After an elderly man who lived in the neighborhood called 911, Serpico made it to the hospital and recovered. He still experiences chronic pain from the bullet fragments lodged in his brain. Serpico received the Medal of Honor, the NYPD's highest honor, in May 1972, and retired from the force a month later. He moved to Europe and spent a decade in Switzerland and the Netherlands. His exploits with the NYPD inspired the Peter Maas book Serpico, and the 1973 film of the same name that earned Al Pacino an Oscar nomination.
Beginning in the early 2000s, suspicions arose that members of the Chicago Police Department's (CPD) Second District were shaking down drug dealers and pocketing the cash. Officers Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria went undercover in a joint CPD and FBI investigation to find evidence of the claims.
In February 2012, tactical unit Sgt. Ronald Watts and tactical team officer Kallat Mohamed were arrested after being videotaped taking money from a drug dealer, who was actually an undercover informant. The department called the case closed, despite rumors more than a half dozen other cops were involved in illegal activity - including two unsolved homicides.
The investigation was stopped after the arrest of Watts and Mohamed. In an interview with NBC 5, Spalding said she was told the investigation was "too big" and included too many high-ranking officers. Spalding and Echeverria were ostracized and intimidated after their role in the undercover investigation was intentionally leaked within the department. "My life, my safety my freedom was threatened," Spalding said. "I was subjected to daily harassment."
The two officers filed a civil rights lawsuit against the CPD and a third officer stepped forward to corroborate their claims. Spalding and Echeverria were given dead-end assignments and supervisors instructed other officers in their unit to ignore their calls for backup. A sergeant was heard saying Spalding "better wear her bulletproof vest" or she might "go home in a casket." In November 2016, the city of Chicago settled the with Spalding and Echeverria, awarding them $2 million.
Officer Adrian Schoolcraft felt there was something wrong in his Brooklyn precinct, but he didn't know what to do about it. He decided to carry around a digital audio recorder at all times and capture as much evidence of what he believed was top-to-bottom corruption in the NYPD.
From June 1, 2008, to October 31, 2009, Schoolcraft recorded hundreds of hours of audio from within the precinct and out on the streets. His recordings revealed cops in his precinct were expected to meet quotas for stop-and-frisks and arrests or face punishment. Commanding officers instructed beat cops to neglect some robbery reports to manipulate crime statistics, and even intimidated crime victims who filed complaints.
Schoolcraft released the tapes to The Village Voice, which ran a series of damning articles. An investigation opened up that corroborating Schoolcraft's claims. On October 7, 2010, Schoolcraft was interviewed by the Quality Assistance Division for three hours about his allegations. Later that month, after he left work early because he felt sick, he was visited at home by precinct supervisors. He was thrown to the floor, handcuffed, and admitted to the psychiatric ward at Jamaica Hospital against his will.
Schoolcraft was forcibly held at the psych ward for six days. He returned home to find that officers had removed paperwork detailing his grievances against the NYPD's actions. Fortunately for Schoolcraft, the digital audio recorder that initially got him into hot water was running when he was cuffed and taken to the psych ward, proving he was coherent and rational and had refused medical assistance. Schoolcraft sued the city for $50 million for violating his civil rights and finally settled the case for $600,000 in 2015. Only four cops from his precinct received internal disciplinary charges - none were fired or arrested.
Former Buffalo Police Officer Cariol Horne was a veteran with the department when she stopped one of her fellow police officers from brutalizing a handcuffed suspect. On November 1, 2006, Horne responded to a call of domestic abuse at the home of Neal Mack and found him in handcuffs for resisting arrest.
Horne and nine other officers dragged Mack from his home, at which point Horne claims the arresting officer, Gregory Kwiatkowski, began choking the handcuffed Mack. She told him to stop. Instead of standing down, Kwiatkowski flew into a rage and punched Horne so hard she had to have the bridge in her teeth replaced. Horne was fired and charged with obstruction of justice for interceding. She was two months shy of earning her pension.
It might be small consolation for Horne, but her actions were vindicated when Kwiatkowski was forced to retire from the police department for choking an officer and for an off-duty scuffle with another office. In May 2014, Kwiatowski was indicted for violating the civil rights of several black teen suspects.