William Devery, the last superintendent of police in New York City, was satirized in a 1902 Harper’s Weekly political cartoon as a figure sitting by the street with a fairy godmother dispensing him a mountain of money.
Devery, who was something of the poster boy for police corruption at the time, was widely quoted in historical accounts as telling corrupt cops, “If there’s any grafting to be done, I’ll do it. Leave it to me.”
While the latest corruption scandal facing the NYPD hasn’t involved allegations of big cash payoffs, it is the latest in a cycle of probes that have come roughly every 20 years in the department. Each time, the NYPD has dealt with embarrassing public allegations, with top brass, commissioners and even mayors taking exits.
Scandals that have hit the NYPD occurred in 1894, 1912, 1930, 1950, 1970 and 1992, said author and police historian Thomas Reppetto.
”The next one [was] scheduled some time after 2012 and it has arrived on schedule,” said Reppetto, co-author of “NYPD: A City and Its Police.”
Earlier scandals often involved high-ups in the department, including the 1970 Knapp Commission, which featured revelations by Narcotics Det. Frank Serpico and fellow detective David Durk of widespread payoffs. The 1912 investigation of large payments to detectives eventually led to the trial and execution of Lt. Charles Becker for murder.
When the Mollen Commission convened in 1992, it uncovered rings of lower-level cops taking drug money, Reppetto said.
“Things were just completely out of control in some of these precincts because of drugs,” Reppetto remembered.
Earlier probes sometimes led to serious consequences. After giving embarrassing testimony about corruption before the Seabury Commission and seeing the NYPD hit with a prostitution scandal, Mayor Jimmy Walker resigned in 1932 and went to Europe.
After the 1950 scandal involving Brooklyn gambler Harry Gross both Police Commissioner William O’Brien and Mayor William O’Dwyer resigned. After the Knapp Commission, Mayor John V. Lindsay’s career lost its luster, Reppetto said. But Mayor David Dinkins seemed relatively unaffected by the revelations of the Mollen Commission, he added.
Still, the case of William Devery shows that, historically, some caught in the middle of such probes sometimes survive. He had his corruption conviction overturned and returned to the NYPD in 1898 as chief of police. He eventually bought a baseball team that later became the New York Yankees after he sold it.
The latest corruption investigation has led to eight officers, including a number of high rank, being either transferred or placed on modified assignments by Bratton.
It remains unclear how far-reaching the current probe, which involves the FBI and NYPD internal affairs bureau, will go.
The probe into NYPD officials taking gifts from two businessmen in return for favors has already spread to whether fundraisers for Mayor Bill de Blasio illegally raised funds for his campaigns or for his Campaign for One New York, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
“This has got the makings of a major scandal and particularly at the level people were involved,” said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College.
This week, a member of a Borough Park safety patrol was charged with bribery in connection with his alleged attempt to pay off a member of the NYPD pistol license bureau. No cops have been charged in the case.
“In the broader sense you could say this is the down side of community policing,” said Reppetto, “you get too friendly with these guys and do favors you shouldn’t do but everybody knows you are not supposed to take anything.”