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Frank Serpico of NYPD fame carries the torch for lamplighters

The younger generation may not remember the movie Serpico, but for those who do Frank “Paco” Serpico is the original super star when it comes to lamplighting. What in the heck is lamplighting? It is the term Serpico coined to replace the term whistle-blowing.

Lamplighting dates back to the days of Paul Revere when the lamps were lit in the tower warning all the British are coming. It is in that spirit that Serpico renamed whistle blowers to a more positive tone. “Lamplighters are individuals who seek truth and justice, even when confronted with the prospect of great personal loss,” explains a passionate Serpico who took on NYPD corruption.

Nothing fires up the original lamplighter more than talking about the perils those who step up and “do the right thing.” Serpico likens lamplighting to entering the tenements in the Bronx, slipping into a room; turning on the lights and watching the cockroaches scamper into the wood works.

Speaking out against titans in the private industry, like big tobacco, or calling uncle when it comes to wartime government contracts or simply trying to protect the borders from terrorists wishing to do harm to American citizens often means stepping outside the comfort zone.

For Serpico, becoming a law enforcement officer was all he wanted to do. To him
a police officer meant respecting the law and doing what was right. You could say his Italian immigrant family values instilled in him the most important trait for a cop- integrity.

“Given the current situation in America and the world, we are at a unique time in history where it is of paramount importance, perhaps more than ever, to ‘do the right thing,’” Serpico explains.

Speaking about America’s living breathing document, the Constitution, former NYPD tough guy explains that it is the job of each citizen is to distrust government and keep those in power, “in check.”

Shining the spotlight on wrongdoing isn’t just ‘the right thing’ but it must be a mantra. According to Serpico, spending one’s life in the grey-zone of morality is simply unacceptable.

Taking a trip down memory lane, Serpico describes some of the toughest moments he faced was the feeling of isolation, loneliness and the knowing that it’s him against the world. For these reasons and others it is important for lamplighters to seek support from groups like the Government Accountability Organization (GAO), Project On Government Oversight (POGO) as well as Serpico’s new website.

“I get many letters from people all over the country and I can’t read them all, but having a support group with other lamplighter organizations can lend a sounding -board environment to drive away the notion you are alone,” Serpico says.

One of the toughest aspects for those who buck the norm and take on corruption first hand is the fact that management is a big part of the problem. Most lamplighters don’t just make the decision to expose co-worker misdeeds; they really weigh all the pros and cons before walking into the bosses’ office.

Once inside the office, behind closed doors the uncomfortable conversation unfolds, believing that shedding the light on inappropriate actions will eventually lead to changes. However, in most cases it is the lamplighter themselves who is shown the door.

The process then moves along to investigation into the lamplighter’s job performance or results in a transfer to another less important post within the company. Altruistic motives, turn to tampered feelings of discontent- management already knows.

Disappointed doesn’t even describe the feeling I had for police chiefs they just “want you to fade into obscurity,” says Serpico.

Today’s new world order

The conversation with Americas top cop diverts to what America faces today in a world of global politics, domestic issues and war.

“I expected Obama would do ‘the right thing’ and end the war (in the Middle East) instead he escalated it,” Serpico tersely says. “It is clear D.C. is broken and Americans can take a page from the people in Iran.”

Yes, he said Iran and he is referring to the recent uprising in the streets by the young Iranians seeking a new government and who seek equality. “They (politicians) treat us like we don’t have a voice – single we don’t, but together we do.”

Since Serpico is an old law enforcement dog naturally he talks about the Patriot Act. Does is support it, no. Why? “Former Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff wrote the bill before 9/11 and the program is capable of amassing information about Americans and they have no intentions to do the right thing,” Serpico explained.

For example, most Americans believe that the Christmas Day bomber spurred the idea the world needs to place full-body scans in every airport. What they don’t tell you, Serpico points out, “is Chertoff owns the company that manufactures the full body scans. On top of that the scanners will not detect the powder the Christmas Day bomber had in his pants.” Serpico insists it’s all about the almighty dollar.

The big brother status in America riles Serpico to the point where he claims his blog is being monitored and he is unable to practice his first Amendment right without content being taken down. “World domination is in full swing,” he said.

Once the book and movie about his life were finished, Serpico chose to leave America. During Serpico’s decade-long stint in Europe he recalls the FBI seeking to apprehend him in Switzerland. “The FBI and CIA are embedded everywhere.” Like many other Americans, Serpico believes the government’s reach is much too wide.

Through his kaleidoscope vision the Medal of Honor recipient explains people need to wake up to the fact they are being mesmerized by television (this explains the fact he has no TV) and stand up for their God given rights. “If we are all brothers and sisters why are we fighting each other instead of the government.”

Politicians don’t hold too high of esteem in Serpico’s eyes. “Politicians are blood-sucking parasites. It’s all about ego and power, the end result is corruption.”

Cases in point, Serpico writes, “Never before have we, as a nation, stood in greater danger of losing our individual liberties as we are today. We the people of this great nation are being punished for the transgressions of our leaders and their consorts. The leaders, who we have elected or not elected, as the case may be, to safeguard and protect our inalienable rights.”

Can anyone of sound mind dispute these facts? Quoting Michael Parenti, he continued, “Here at home and throughout the world, people are fighting back against the forces of wealth, privilege, and militarism—some because they have no choice, others because they would choose no other course but the one that leads to peace and justice.”

Lamplighting and the future

The conversation eventually circles around to the lamplighting topic where he holds many opinions about the future generations attempt to regain control of their country.

“If this country wants more accountability then they need to honor and praise those who come forward to do the right thing,” Serpico quips. Sensing a pattern, “do the right thing” is a major mantra in Serpico’s life. “Politicians don’t like lamplighters because they are a part of the ‘old boys club.’ They don’t want any changes.”

Serpico was never heralded with a ceremony for his Medal of Honor; he simply picked up the piece of metal and threw it into a drawer. In fact Serpico blames his NYPD Police Commissioner Murphy for putting him into harms way. “He got promoted because of me,” Serpico said.

However, he was asked by Bernie Kerik, former NYPD Commissioner, to attend a ceremony. It is here a story is repeated regarding three cadets who came to Serpico and shook his hand. “The first walks up and says ‘you’re the reason I became a police officer. The second says something similar. And the third shakes his hand, and whispers in Frank’s ear, we need to talk after the ceremony.” This is successful in getting a good chuckle.

Another ardent admirer of Serpico is former NYPD officer Charles Houser. “He was the reason I became a NYPD officer. I even served at the exact precinct and worked in the narcotics division. We share the same opinions because higher ups try to stop others for doing the right thing.”

“When I was an officer at NYPD I went to a disco after work with a fellow officer. However, my co-worker went outside and was snorting cocaine, much to my dismay. He offered some to me and I was shocked. Girls who were in the alley way with him said, ‘Wow, we are snorting cocaine with NYPD.’ I turned him in the next day, but he had a relative working in internal affairs and was eventually promoted instead of reprimanded. My career suffered as a result of the whistle-blowing,” Houser says. Complaints like these often fall on deaf ears.

Serpico is proud to learn about Houser and sends his best to an honest cop he has never met. After years of employment, letters of accommodations for integrity and serving honorably is easy to see why Serpico is quick to support a fellow officer. “Not all the NYPD cops are corrupt, but in my opinion they still have a lot of work to do,” Serpico critically states.

Serpico-the untold stories

Another aspect to Serpico’s new found activism is constantly pushing forward. He currently has a television series in development called “Serpico– The Untold Stories.”

The producer of the series is excited and honored to work with a true American hero. “Frank ‘Paco’ Serpico, a NYPD Medal of Honor recipient represents the finest in humanity as a dedicated police officer that forever changed New York politics and the NYPD,” explains BJ Davis a veteran Hollywood producer and director of the Serpico the Untold Stories.

“Today, he is just as committed to insuring the rights and equal protection of U.S. citizens as well as the rank-and-file law enforcement officers. It is an honor to partner with him to bring, “Serpico – The Untold Stories”, hosted by Frank Serpico to the American public and giving a voice to Lamplighters (whistleblowers) who have been retaliated against for doing their job. ‘Serpico’ will be previewed at the 2010 NATPE convention in Las Vegas to buyers, written by Frank Serpico and National Whistleblower, VP of LEOAC, former CBP Officer Julia Davis as production begins.”

In an effort to place the spotlight on the unsung heroes who place their lives on the line only to be retaliated against for doing the right thing, the television series will look at different lamplighters every week. “We hope to shine a positive light onto those who come forward,” Serpico said.

The former NYPD tough guy has many admirers around the country. “Frank Serpico was brave, courageous and bold. Long live his name, long live his glory and long may his story be told,” says John Herbert a Serpico fan.

Bottom line for Serpico remains, “We (officers) need to remember the oath we took and not betray it. However, that becomes difficult as police departments are like a fraternity, just as the medical profession and government agencies. It’s a club and they expect you to play by their rules.”

However, the public is not privy to their rules according to Serpico. There is a certain trust between law enforcement officers because they are placed in many life-threatening instances where one needs to place ultimate trust with partners.

This is where it went terribly wrong for Serpico, he placed his trust in fellow officers and they nearly let him die in the line of duty. He explains that it is hard to talk about the last moments of his NYPD career, because it led to being shot in the face by a criminal and his fellow partners did nothing to back him up, not even call for an ambulance.

“It was a pretty low moment and I have nightmares to this day,” Serpico says. “God made heaven and man made hell.”

Like most lamplighters, Serpico would do it again. “But I’m lucky I don’t have to because there are a lot of great people out there to pass the torch to.”

This is part four in a series.

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