Blue on Blue: An Insider’s Story of Good Cops Catching Bad Cops

   Charles Camisi sounds like he had a great time as the head of the NYPD internal affairs. His career spanned almost 40 years and 4 police commissioners, starting at the worst time for New York, and ending in one of our best times. The Internal Affairs division, where he worked for most of his career, investigates police corruption, so basically he was policing other cops. As for the corrupt police that he busted, they range from Sergeants who sexually harass female subordinates to Inspectors who steal huge loads of cash.

There aren’t a lot of surprises in this book; police officers start feeling invincible, and they take greater and greater risks, then they start robbing drug dealers (happens a lot in this book) and their crimes get so bold that they become visible to the authorities. Some of them have sex with female drug addicts who they use for informers, which opens them up to blackmail. The drug robberies are usually in collusion with small-time dealers that they know. Sometimes the police will simply do a drug raid, confiscate five figures in cash, and not voucher a few thousands. It ranges from pennies to hundred dollar bills.

Some of Campisi’s cases involve peace officers using their badges to extort money, and they’re the easiest ones to deal with. Few cases involve brutality or excessive force, because that’s harder to prove in court thanks to “sovereign immunity.” Financial crimes, however, are easier to prove, and Campisi prefers when corrupt cops agree to be informants. If one bent cop is caught stealing a thousand dollars, he’s likely to know some that are taking even more, and that increases the chance that they’ll all end up implicating each other. The best chance of a conviction always rests on the witness testifying in court.

One of the main obstacles covered in this book is the concept of “compelled statements.” If a police officer is told “give a sworn statement or face dismissal,” then any admission of guilt can’t be used against him in court. That makes the Internal Affairs detectives reluctant to question rogue cops. Aside from the basic report of events, Campisi couldn’t ask outright if they’d planted a gun, robbed a drug dealer, or dealt drugs. Instead, there would be a lot of work involved, watching the officer’s movements, finding out how many houses and cars he owned, watching what he did in his leisure time, and more. The advantage, however, is that some cops are apt to work for Internal Affairs if they want to move up. If you do a certain amount of full-time undercover work, then you get a detective’s shield.

One of the most entertaining cases was that of Jose Ramos, which began when someone (probably a jealous ex-girlfriend) phoned and said “he has barbershops that are fronts for drug dealing.” Sure enough, Officer Ramos owned several barbershops that he hadn’t told the NYPD about (strike one) and rented space in the store to pirate CD vendors (strike two) and hadn’t reported the income on his tax return (strike three.) It would’ve been enough to fire him, but why not go for something bigger? He spent a lot of time with a known drug dealer, let the guy drive his car, and let him live in an apartment that he rented. Eventually the NYPD arrested the dealers her worked with, and they all gave evidence. After ending up in Rikers, Ramos tried to hire another prisoner to assassinate an informant, and got extra time on his sentence. It was the Ramos case that led to the ticket-fixing scandal.

I’m going to give this book top marks. The author doesn’t try to make himself look like a big hero, and he doesn’t have any great prejudice against anyone. He makes things clear from the beginning, if you’re a cop with ten years on the force and you decide to ruin it by stealing, then you deserve your misery. I knew of some of his cases before this book came out, and I admit that they didn’t look like a big deal to me. But after reading this book, I see exactly how bad some of these cops really were.