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The Commission to Investigate Alleged Police Corruption (known informally as the Knapp Commission, after its chairman Whitman Knapp) was a five-member panel initially formed in April 1970 by Mayor John V Lindsay to investigate corruption within the New York City Police Department. The creation of the commission was largely a result of the publicity generated by the public revelations of police corruption made by Patrolman Frank Serpico and Sergeant David Durk. The commission confirmed the existence of widespread corruption and made a number of recommendations.
Investigation and public hearings
While the Knapp Commission began its investigation of corruption in the police department in June 1970, public hearings didn't start until October 18, 1971. In addition to the testimony of 'lamplighters' (whistleblowers) Serpico and Durk, testimony from dozens of other witnesses, including former Police Commissioner Howard R. Leary, corrupt patrolmen and the victims of police shakedowns, were heard.
As an immediate result of the testimony of the witnesses, criminal indictments against corrupt police officials were handed down. Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy was appointed by Mayor Lindsay shortly after the commission was formed to clean up the department, implement proactive integrity checks, transfer senior personnel on a huge scale, rotate critical jobs, ensure sufficient funds to pay informants, and crack down on citizen attempts at bribery.
The commission issued its preliminary report on August 15, 1972, and issued its final report on December 27, 1972. In its final report, the commission found widespread corruption in the New York City Police Department, and made the following recommendations:
- commanders should be held accountable for their subordinates' actions.
- commanders should file periodic reports on key aspects that would breed corruption.
- field offices of the Internal Affairs division should be created at all precincts.
- undercover informants should be placed in all precincts.
- improve screening and selection methods and standards.
- a change in police attitudes.
"Grass Eaters" and "Meat Eaters"
The Knapp Commission Report on Police Corruption identified two particular classes of corrupt police officer, which it called "Grass Eaters" and "Meat Eaters". This classification refers to petty corruption under peer pressure ("eating grass") and aggressive premeditated major corruption ("eating meat").
The term "Grass Eaters" is used to describe police officers who "accept gratuities and solicit five, ten, twenty dollar payments from contractors, tow-truck operators, gamblers, and the like but do not pursue corruption payments." 'Grass eating' is something that a significant number of officers are guilty of, but which they learned to do so from other cops or from imitating the deviants they watch and investigate every day. The commission even concluded that 'grass eating' was used by police officers in New York City to prove their loyalty to the brotherhood, and with that came incentives like side jobs. One method of preventing cops from becoming corrupt is to eliminate this step by removing veteran cops who do this; without any veteran cops to learn this from, new officers might decide to never 'eat grass'.
"Meat Eaters" are officers who "spend a good deal of time aggressively looking for situations they can exploit for financial gain." An example of this is shaking down pimps and illicit drug dealers for money, not only for the material profit to the officers, but for the relief from guilt that the officers derive by convincing themselves that their victims deserve such treatment. They justify taking advantage of these kinds of criminals because they are considered the dregs of society."
- Barker, T. (1978) An Empirical Study of Police Deviance Other Than Corruption. Journal of Police Science and Administration 6(3): 264-72.
- Barker, T. & D. Carter (1990) Fluffing Up the Evidence and Covering Your Ass: Some Conceptual Notes on Police Lying. Deviant Behavior 11: 61-73.
- Barker, T. & D. Carter (Eds.) (1994) Police Deviance. Cincinnati: Anderson. ISBN 978-0-87084-714-1
- Braziller, G. (Ed.) (1972) The Knapp Commission Report on Police Corruption. New York: George Braziller.
- Chin, G. (Ed.) (1997) New York City Police Corruption Investigation Commissions. New York: William S. Hein & Co. ISBN 978-1-57588-211-6
- Chin, G. and Scott Wells, The "Blue Wall of Silence" as Evidence of Bias and Motive to Lie: A New Approach to Police Perjury, 59 University of Pittsburgh Law Review 233 (1998).
- DeLattre, E. (5th ed. 2006) Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing. Washington DC: AEI Press. ISBN 978-0-8447-4217-5
- Dershowitz, A. (1996) Reasonable Doubts. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Kania, R. & W. Mackey (1977) Police Violence as a Function of Community Characteristics Criminology 15: 27-48.
- Kappeler, V., R. Sluder & G. Alpert (1994) Forces of Deviance: Understanding the Dark Side of Policing. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
- Kleinig, J. (1996) The Ethics of Policing. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.
- Knapp Commission Records, Lloyd Sealy Library Special Collections, John Jay College of Criminal Justice (view upon appointment only)
- Robert Daley (1973) Target Blue, An Insider's View of the N.Y.P.D. New York: Delacorte Press.
- Sherman, L. (1974) Police Corruption: A Sociological Perspective. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday.
- Trautman, N. (1997) The Cutting Edge of Police Integrity. FL: Ethics Inst.
Coverage by the New York Times
- Graft Paid to Police Here Said to Run Into Millions; Survey Links Payoffs to Gambling and Narcotics Some on Force Accuse Officials of Failure to Act Graft Payments to Policemen Here Are Reported to Run Into the Millions Annually Some Members of Force Say Officials Fail to Act - New York Times article: April 25, 1970
- Mayor's Committee Investigating Police Corruption Here Meets Tomorrow to Determine Procedures - New York Times article: April 26, 1970
- PANEL ON POLICE MAY BE REPLACED; Mayor Is Expected to Name a Larger Unit on Graft That Excludes Leary - New York Times article: May 9, 1970
- LINDSAY APPOINTS CORRUPTION UNIT; Subpoena Power Asked for 2d Panel to Study Police - New York Times article: May 22, 1970
- KNAPP SAYS LAWS SPUR POLICE GRAFT; Lindsay Appointee Explains Objectives of Inquiry - New York Times article: June 7, 1970
- 41 Policemen Are Subpoenaed By Knapp Unit in Betting Inquiry- New York Times article: February 17, 1971
- PERJURY LAID TO 2 IN POLICE INQUIRY; Patrolmen in Meat Incident Are First to Be Accused in Knapp Investigation Perjury Charged to 2 Policemen In Knapp Inquiry on Corruption - New York Times article: June 9, 1971
- Knapp Says Mayor Shares Blame for Corrupt Police; Knapp Faults Lindsay On Corruption of Police - New York Times article: July 2, 1971
- KNAPP UNIT TELLS OF POLICE BRIBERY AS HEARINGS OPEN; Reports 'Extensive' Problem in Corruption Here--Tape Evidence Is Presented DETAILS OF VICE GRAFT 2 Patrolmen and a Lawyer Linked to Payoffs to Help an East Side Madam Knapp Panel Tells of Police Bribery as Hearings Begin Here - New York Times article: October 19, 1971
- Patrolman Says 'All But 2' Of Colleagues Got Bribes; Numbers Runner Tells the Knapp Panel That He Paid Off a Detective Monthly With Money From Social Security Patrolman Says 'All But 2' Colleagues Took Bribes - New York Times article: October 23, 1971
- KNAPP UNIT'S HEAD DEFENDS LEGALITY OF INVESTIGATION; Public Attention Is Essential in Combating Corruption, Lawyer Tells Critics HOGAN BACKS HEARINGS But Roberts Scores Actions -- Police Bid Businessmen End Giving of Gratuities Knapp Commission Chairman Defends Legality of Investigation - New York Times article: October 24, 1971
- Knapp Urges a Permanent Body on Police Corruption to Succeed His Panel - New York Times article: October 25, 1971
- Knapp Witness to Tell of Lindsay Officials' Apathy; Witness Will Tell Knapp Panel Lindsay Officials Ignored Graft - New York Times article: October 30, 1971
- Leary Agrees to Be Knapp Witness - New York Times article: December 14, 1971
- Serpico's Lonely Journey to Knapp Witness Stand- New York Times article: December 15, 1971
- Phillips, a Knapp Witness, Indicted in Two Murders; Phillips, Knapp Witness, Is Indicted - New York Times article: March 21, 1972
- KNAPP NOMINATED AS FEDERAL JUDGE; Head of Police Inquiry Unit One of Four Named Here - New York Times article: June 16, 1972
- Knapp Panel's Recommendation a Touchy Problem for Mayor and Governor - New York Times article: August 27, 1972
- KNAPP PANEL SAYS WALSH AND OTHERS IGNORED TIPS BY U.S. ON POLICE CRIMES; KRIEGEL IS SCORED - New York Times article: December 28, 1972
- Whitman Knapp
- Frank Serpico
- Mollen Commission
- Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service in Australia, held from 1994-1997.
- Police corruption
- Political corruption
- Police brutality
- New York City Police Commissioner
- Official New York City Police Department website
- Commission to Combat Police Corruption, New York City
- Official Frank Serpico website
- Serpico at the Internet Movie Database
- Lloyd Sealy Library Special Collections, John Jay College of Criminal Justice (houses Knapp Commission records, view upon appointment)