1971 October 22

“A Civil Liberties Disaster”: New York Civil Liberties Union Attacks Procedures in Police Corruption Probe

 

A major police corruption scandal erupted in New York City in 1970, prompting an independent investigation of corruption in the NYPD by the Knapp Commission. On this day, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) condemned procedures used by the Knapp Commission in its investigation, charging that many violated civil liberties and the rights of police officers. The violations included trial by public exposure (similar to anti-Communist witch hunts by HUAC), warrantless electronic surveillance, entrapment, and use of inherently unreliable informant testimony.

The corruption scandal is widely known by the name of one police officer who exposed corruption, Frank Serpico, but in fact the entire affair was much broader than his activities.

Despite the NYCLU’s position on this case, the police frequently attacked the ACLU and its state affiliates because it supported constitutional limits on police powers, its challenges to police brutality, and its support for citizen oversight of the police. See the attacks on July 25, 1961 (accusing the ACLU of “subversive activities”) and October 13, 1970 (blaming the ACLU for the rise in crime). On October 25, 1981, the ACLU published a handbook on The Rights of Police Officers.

Read: Knapp Commission, The Knapp Commission Report on Police Corruption (1972)

Read the book: Peter Maas, Serpico (1973)

See the movie: Serpico (1973)

Outdated, but still useful: Gilda Brancato and Elliot E. Polebaum, The Rights of Police Officers (1981)

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