What Do I Know About Corrupt Cops? My Family Owned a Few.

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Ultimately, the only people watching the watchers are those realistic enough to admit that it’s necessary.

Vito-Genovese Cops

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Years ago, members of my extended family were gangsters connected with the Genovese crime family. They had the ability, which they used, to place people in favored positions within the New York City Police Department. I know this, because my father was offered one of those slots.

This is a big part of why I’ve always had a problem with claims that you can trust the police, in addition to the civil liberties abuses we report at Reason. Cops can be as crooked as anybody else—and are more dangerous for it, because of their power and position. It’s the old problem of“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”—”Who watches the watchmen?” The more you give the watchmen to do, the more tempting it becomes to corrupt them, and for them to let themselves be corrupted. And the more temptation for corruption, the more the likelihood that such temptation is the main attraction for people who want to be watchmen.

That temptation sometimes really is the main attraction. Remembering some of the old family stories, I asked my father for details. He told me:

The time was 1954 when I was graduating from high school and my Uncle Puggy, Watermelon King of the East Coast, who presided over the Bronx Terminal Market, told my father he was wasting his money sending me to college. He could get me a beat around the market, located in the South Bronx before it moved to Hunts Point, where I could get on the family’s payroll and get an envelope stuffed with cash every week.

Puggy was called “the Watermelon King” because the New York Daily News once published a picture of him standing on top of a mountain of watermelons. The photo illustrated an article pointing out that he extracted his cut from every banana, every tomato, every kind of fruit and vegetable known to mankind that passed through the Bronx Terminal Market. And, if you’re going to be in that kind of business, it’s helpful to own the people who are supposed to prevent that sort of thing from happening. Puggy did. He wanted my father to join in the lucrative fun.

My father decided not to go that route.

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