Film Series

Serpico: Screening and Conversation

October 13, 2015

This 1973 classic, gritty Sidney Lumet film starring Al Pacino is based on the true story of police officer, Frank Serpico, an honest cop during a corrupt era of the NYPD whose courage led to the Knapp Commission and widespread changes throughout the police department.

FOLCS hosted a screening and Conversation with former NYPD Officer, Frank Serpico, and district attorney of NY County, Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

Watch Serpico: Screening and Conversation here.

See more from FOLCS here.


Frank Serpico
Former NYPD Officer

Frank Serpico was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Italian immigrants. When he was eighteen, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for two years in Korea. After military service, he worked part-time as a youth counselor and private investigator and attended college, joining the New York City Police Department at the age of twenty-three. He is a graduate of Brooklyn College and The John Jay College of Criminal Justice and is fluent in five languages. His police career has been well-documented in Peter Maas’s best-selling biography and in the Academy Award nominated film, Serpico, in which Al Pacino portrayed him.

Serpico’s career as a plainclothes policeman working in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan was short-lived, however, because he swam against the tide of corruption that engulfed the NYPD during the late sixties and early seventies. Not only did he consistently refuse to take bribes for “looking the other way,” he risked his own safety to expose those who did. In 1967 he reported to appropriate officials credible evidence of widespread, systemic police corruption. It was not until April 1970, however, when the New York Times published an explosive story, that Mayor Lindsay took action and appointed the Knapp Commission to investigate. As a consequence of his testimony before the commission, Serpico was ostracized by his peers and, many believe, ultimately set up to be shot during a drug raid in which he was seriously wounded and his fellow officers did not call for assistance.

He resigned from the NYPD, on a medical disability, and spent the next ten years living abroad, recovering from his wounds, traveling and learning.In the early eighties he settled in New York State.

Serpico continues to speak out against both the weakening of civil liberties and corrupt practices in law enforcement.  He provides support for individuals who seek truth and justice even in the face of great personal risk. He calls them “lamp lighters,” a term he prefers to the more common “whistleblowers,” because it evokes memories of the historic ride in which Paul Revere made a great deal of noise and caused the lanterns to be lit.


Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.
District Attorney of NY County

Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., was first sworn in as the District Attorney of New York County on January 1, 2010. Since then, Mr. Vance enhanced the District Attorney’s Office as a national leader in criminal justice by expanding its expertise on an array of 21st century crimes. Mr. Vance’s achievements as District Attorney include the creation of the first Conviction Integrity Program and Crime Strategies Unit in the five boroughs; 21 indictments against gun traffickers, leading to the removal of more than 3,000 illegal firearms from city streets; dismantling 18 violent street gangs in Manhattan; the first convictions of individuals on State terror charges in New York; the dismantling of multiple domestic and international cybercrime and identity theft operations; and the recovery of nearly $12 billion dollars over the course of settlements with nine banks that violated U.S. sanctions.

District Attorney Vance was reelected in 2013, and is the co-founder and co-chair of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, an independent, non-partisan coalition of prosecutors from major jurisdictions across the country. District Attorney Vance has also taken a national leadership role in addressing the issue of race in the criminal justice system, including commissioning a study by the non-partisan Vera Institute of Justice to evaluate the Office’s practices in charging, plea-bargaining, and bail. Using funds obtained through penalties leveled against financial institutions that violated U.S. sanctions, Mr. Vance has made a series of significant investments in transformative criminal justice initiatives in New York City and nationally. These programs include the testing of backlogged rape kits nationwide; equipping every NYPD officer and patrol car with handheld mobile devices and tablets; reducing the number of individuals with mental and behavioral health issues in the criminal justice system; and enhancing security in New York City Public Housing Authority developments.

Mr. Vance is a graduate of Yale University and Georgetown University Law Center.