This is a hard hitting personal account of the difficult and at times morally ambiguous choices that Robert Leuci had to make as a narcotics detective in the Special Unit of the NYPD circa 1968-1973. He was a contemporary of Frank Serpico who also took on the personal and unpopular crusade of attempting to bring to heel some of the worst aspects of corruption in the NYPD.
Leuci wanted to go farther than Serpico. He wanted people to see that the narcotics trade, due to the vast amounts of money involved, was able to buy favors from not only street cops and detectives, but also from prosecutors, bail bondsmen and even judges.
The strain on Leuci was incredible and the book is a very tense read because at the same time Leuci was trying to expose and fight corruption at the highest levels, he was also attempting to protect the people he was closest to: his partners and others he had worked with in the Special Unit. Ultimately, this task proved not only impossible, but also heart breaking as he lost friends both literally and metaphorically along the way.
Anytime a person takes on institutions in an effort to create change in the name of social justice, there is a personal cost. This book brilliantly tells that story while at the same time creating a real sense of the emotional and mental toll it took on Leuci.
There were times that I found myself very tense as I read. The book also does a great job of showing the choices that detectives made in order to achieve “public safety”. Many times, those choices were in “shades of grey” rather than the black and white many expect of the justice system.
The book also does a wonderful job of showing the parallels of a guerrilla war being fought both in Vietnam and on the home front in the streets of New York. Leuci lost friends and colleagues. Like Frank Serpico, he survived to tell the tale. Unlike Serpico, who was shot by fellow cops attempting to murder him for taking a stand on these social justice issues and ultimately choosing to leave the NYPD, Leuci was able to continue with a job on the force. It took a very long time for him to gain back even a small measure of acceptance and one suspects it was a lonely and at times, deeply painful road.
People willing to take these kinds of risks and stances and withstand the public and professional crucifixion are amazing. To this day, if you Google his name, there are cops from the force at that time who are very vocal in their hatred for what Leuci did. But public institutions demand this type of scrutiny.
This is a page turner and well worth the investment of your time. Given the current state of affairs on police forces across the country and the tension and mistrust between the public and the police, perhaps this is more relevant than ever.