Officers Francesco Vincent Serpico vs. Robert Leuci


It is important to consider the work of a law enforcement officer to understand the similarities and differences between Frank Serpico and Robert Leuci. Policing is a morally dangerous occupation, and ethical behavior within it is a matter of character. Everything about the work of a police officer is in flux, and those joining the profession today continue to be better trained and educated than their predecessors. They are involved in an ongoing consideration of ethics from a positivist perspective and constitute a new breed of professionals capable of understanding, debating, discussing, reflecting, and reading about ethics dating back about 2000 years ago (Jetmore, 2005). Police training in the academy reflects and encourages these changes by shifting away from the outdated, stress-related, military-like training approach to a more collegial and educationally productive learning and teaching method. As this transformation occurs, police officers engaged in ethical discussions concerning their profession are increasingly prone to comprehend their professional milieu, subculture, and themselves in sophisticated, analytical, and insightful ways.

Francesco “Frank” Vincent Serpico and Robert “Bob” Leuci are two former police officers that exemplify these changes. Their stories are well-told in texts, articles, and journals, including the notable book “Serpico” by Peter Maas and “Prince of the City” by Robert Daley. In the book “Serpico,” the author describes Frank as “the cop who could not be bought.” In the book “Prince of the City,” Bob Leuci knew too much about the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Frank Serpico – a man who could not be bought or silenced – was a Brooklyn-born son of a Neapolitan shoemaker committed to upholding the law even if perpetrators of criminal acts were other police officers.

This unwavering commitment to justice nearly cost Serpico (a short, muscular man with a full beard and brown curly hair) his life (Maas, 2005). On the day he was shot, Serpico was a member of NYPD’s plainclothes detail. His work entailed special assignments in narcotics, gambling, and prostitution. The temptation and opportunities for corruption for plainclothes police officers were high in narcotics because of the profit at stake and gambling and prostitution because a large portion, if not the majority of the public, constantly demanded it. Enthusiastically, Serpico joined the plainclothes department anticipating advancing in rank into detective (Maas, 2005). Although he could not participate in the payoffs within this work area, he soon found that he could not ignore the ill either. He decided to do something about a system that had allowed graft to flourish, leaving many of his colleagues bewildered and baffled.

Bob Leuci’s story is similar to Frank’s – it is set in the same city and began in the 1970s. After many corruption cases within the NYPD, the United States federal government embarked on a long investigation to uncover the ill, its sources, and its proliferation within the police force (Daley, 2004). The federal government focused on NYPD’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) within the Narcotics Division. Federal prosecutors Tom Puccio, Maurice Nadjari, and Rudolf Giuliani chose the enthusiastic young detective Robert Leuci to probe these alleged corruption cases as an undercover agent (Daley, 2004). Only the police commissioner and the prosecutors knew Detective Leuci’s dual role. The detective worked a tightrope, facing moral danger that made his life a nightmare.

Similarities Between Frank Serpico and Robert Leuci

There is a lot of similarities between Francesco Vincent Serpico and Robert Leuci. First, both officers stuck with moral and ethical behavior despite working in a difficult profession. Frank Serpico refused to be bought and almost lost his life for his stand. His issue was exacerbated by his colleagues participating in criminal activities rather than upholding the rule of law. Before Serpico, an unwritten rule existed within the police service in New York City that almost placed the police above the law. Serpico had the opportunity to be corrupt – to receive payments and turn a blind eye on illegal practices within New York City (Maas, 2005). However, he chose the path of truth, to uphold the law and follow it to the letter while encouraging the other police officers to be moral and ethical. Bob Leuci also focused on following the law and unearthing corruption in the NYPD (Daley, 2004). When people follow the law, they create a conducive environment for society to thrive. Since police officers maintain law and order, what they do is critical to societal stability and growth.

Both officers also tried to unearth corruption and prevent it from spreading within the police department. It is a moral and commendable behavior for both officers, given that corruption is one of society’s most difficult problems (Jetmore, 2005). Police departments throughout the world should try to eliminate corruption to create an effective society that promotes fairness. Both officers believed that the only way to ensure sanity in the police department is to eradicate all forms of graft, including bribery, misappropriation of funds, and nepotism (Caldero et al., 2018). For example, Frank wanted a promotion to become a detective within the police department, but he would only achieve this promotion by working as a plainclothes officer. This post within the police service was only available for the best of the best officers, and successful implementation of the role would have resulted in a promotion for the officer. He tried to avoid the criminal gang and corruption ring until a promotion occurred. Bob Leuci also investigated corruption within the police department to make recommendations for improvement.

Serpico and Leuci also inspired the law enforcement career of many individuals within the NYPD and beyond. Their moral and ethical behavior did not go unrewarded because it inspired others to do what was right and focus on creating an environment for growth and the rule of law (Caldero et al., 2018). If police officers fail to follow the law, they may create instability and cause the profession’s natural death over the years. Serpico and Bob believed that the future of the law enforcement career depended on setting the right precedent for the rest of society and aspiring police officers (Jetmore, 2005). For example, if the police continue accepting bribes throughout their careers, they create a culture of corruption and bribe-taking within the office. This new culture affects new police officers, making it hard for them to be ethical and moral. People who may have been moral and ethical before joining the force may leave their moral and ethical behavior due to a negative influence from peers. Bob and Frank knew that they had to keep the police department clean to create a positive culture that encouraged new entrants to focus on fairness and the rule of law.

Differences Between Frank Serpico and Robert Leuci

Despite the many similarities, several differences exist between Frank and Bob. First, Frank went directly into dealing with the issue of corruption in the police department in New York while Bob was an undercover detective. Therefore, for his work, Bob had to engage in numerous immoral and unethical activities to blend with the locals and ensure that he understood everything about what they do to uncover corrupt practices and expose those involved (Daley, 2005). Bob’s involvement in these corrupt and unethical practices was a necessary evil, given the nature of his job and the sensitivity of the matter at hand. The issues at stake at the time were high, and Bob would have been exposed if he did not blend with the local officers. It was only possible for him to come out with the results of the investigations after he had uncovered the truth and the issues hailing the police department in New York (Maas, 2005). Serpico’s approach was more straightforward, so his life was in danger throughout the operation.

Another difference between Frank and Bob is that it took them different time frames to unearth corruption rackets within the NYPD. For Frank, this realization was more immediate and direct because he was personally involved in the investigations as a police officer without ulterior motives (Maas, 2005). No sooner had he been deployed to the field than he discovered that other officers were receiving payments from illegal businesses to turn a blind eye to them. For Bob, the discovery took longer because he needed time to blend with the locals and work as one of them. He needed more time to gain the trust of these individuals and collect evidence of corrupt practices. It was difficult for him because this work entailed doing everything the other police officers did and gathering data without being noticed (Jetmore, 2005). His life became full of immoral, unethical, and disgusting practices, including gambling, prostitution, and drug dealing. He needed this exposure to know the truth and advice the relevant authorities appropriately so that they could implement the necessary changes that would bring sanity to the NYPD.

Another difference between the two individuals is that Bob’s work resulted from Frank’s revelations to the Knapp Commission. Bob Leuci would not have done the investigations if Serpico had not revealed a corruption ring in the NYPD to the commission. Leuci’s work also resulted in significant changes since he had to wear a wire whenever he was working in a situation where he would achieve significant information (Caldero et al., 2018). When it became apparent that he was a detective, some of his colleagues committed suicide. Others were arrested, prosecuted, and jailed. This investigation did not focus on the police department alone. It also covered the legal system in New York City and revealed a corruption ring that was at least 50 years old. Serpico’s complaints and revelations had focused predominantly on the police department in New York alone (Maas, 2005). Leuci’s investigation lasted for two years, and the Special Investigation Unit of the New York Police Department ceased operations as it became apparent that it did more harm than good.

Police power in the United States is an awakening leviathan. These gun-wielding individuals seem to have the power to intervene directly in people’s lives. They got this influence directly from the court and can use it for good or evil. This power also has enormous power to corrupt individuals and transform good, law-abiding officers into bribe-seeking, law-breaking workers (Daley, 2004). One can understand how police officers can be corrupted by their work. It is important to recognize that they strongly believe in their work’s “core” activity: doing something about crime. Some may perceive the police as automation in blue. The public may sometimes perceive the police as law-dispensing individuals devoid of feelings. This “just the facts ma’am approach” to police work is wrong because the men and women in uniform enforcing the law believe in their work and execute it with passion, just as other professionals do (Caldero et al., 2018). They base their moral and ethical behavior at work on straightforward and traditional beliefs in what is right and wrong. They are morally committed to their job and consider wrong and right as concrete daily notions.

The work that Serpico and Leuci did shows the extent of police power. There is a lot of similarities and differences between the two officers. They were both focused on ending corruption within the police department in New York City and maintained their belief in the importance of fairness and justice. Both officers knew that law enforcement agencies wield significant power and are susceptible to corrupt practices. However, they also differ in their approaches to achieving these moral and ethical ideals. Frank utilized a more direct approach, given the nature of his work, while Bob took a more indirect approach. Unlike Frank, Bob was an undercover detective and had to participate in corrupt, immoral, and unethical practices to collect sufficient data for prosecuting offenders. Bob’s work – which lasted for two years – caused some police officers and criminal justice system employees to commit suicide. The work also led to several arrests and prosecutions. However, Bob’s work would not have been possible without Frank, the whistleblower.


Daley, R. (2004). Prince of the City. Money Bell.

Caldero, M. A., Dailey, J. D., & Withrow, B. L. (2018). Police ethics: The corruption of noble cause. Routledge.

Jetmore, L. F. (2005). The path of the warrior: An ethical guide to personal & professional development in the field of criminal justice. Looseleaf Law Publications.

Maas, P. (2005). Serpico: The true Classic story of the cop who couldn’t be bought. The Viking Press.

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