Blue on Blue by Charles Campisi

Review published on February 26, 2017.

Police corruption is a subject that I’ve been interested in for a good few years, right back to when I myself worked in current affairs journalism. In the UK there have been two key books that looked at police corruption in London’s Metropolitan Police, Bent Coppers by Grahame McLagan and Untouchables by Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn. Broadly speaking, Bent Coppers argues that the Met was effective in combatting the scourge of corruption, while Untouchables takes a far more pessimistic view. What these books both have in common is the fact that their authors are journalists; a police officer involved in the fight against corruption has yet to put pen to paper in the UK. Across the Atlantic, in New York, the reverse is now the case. Charles Campisi was head of the NYPD’s Internal Affairs division from 1996 through to 2014, and his book Blue on Blue outlines his experiences. A lot happened in New York during his tenure. As mayor, Guliani presided over his so-called zero tolerance. While some claim that it led to a drop in crime, a number of police officers appear to have taken it as a green light for brutality. This is not to place the blame for any of what happened at Guliani’s door. I’m not suggesting that he bears any personal responsibility, but a minority of officers do appear to have interpreted the policy this way. A big difference between the Met’s problems and those of the NYPD seem to be the scale of violence. Undoubtedly, this is in no small part due to New York officers being routinely armed. Campisi developed a reputation as incorruptible, as something of a hard-nosed investigator, and his tenure at IAD saw a marked fall in the number of New Yorkers gunned down by police and the number of officers who failed integrity tests. That said, he still presided over some harrowing cases. The choking death of Anthony Baez, the killing of Amadou Diallo, who was shot nineteen times by police, and Abner Louima, who was sexually assaulted by NYPD officers, are just some of those he had to deal with. Then, there were the officers trafficking drugs and helping organised crime. As mentioned, both books concerning the Met’s battle against corruption have been penned by journalists. Having read Campisi’s book, it would be interesting to read a journalist’s perspective on New York’s battle. Similarly, I would love a Met police officer to pen an insider account as Campisis has done. Only when we have both can we hope to have something close to a complete picture. That said, Charles Campisi has written an engaging and intelligent account of the NYPD’s battle against corruption and it’s a book I have no hesitation in recommending.

James Pierson 5/5

Blue on Blue by Charles Campisi
Scribner Book Company 9781501127199 hbk Feb 2017

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