David Durk, a New York police detective who with Officer Frank Serpico shattered the infamous blue wall of silence to expose widespread corruption in the city’s Police Department in the 1960s and ‘70s, died Tuesday at his home in Putnam County, N.Y. He was 77.
The cause was cardiac arrest, his wife, Arlene, said. He had been treated for mesothelioma for the past two years, she said.
An Amherst College graduate who studied law at Columbia University, Durk joined the Police Department in 1963. He imagined a life of public service, as he put it rosily years later, to help “an old lady walk the streets safely" and “a storekeeper make a living without keeping a shotgun under his cash register."
But what he found was a culture of corruption: of officers and superiors taking payoffs from gamblers, drug dealers, merchants and mobsters for protection and information, like the names of informers they wanted to kill; of officers stealing and dealing drugs, riding shotgun for pushers and intimidating witnesses.
Durk refused to join in, and became a pariah. While he made many arrests and was promoted to detective sergeant, he was shuttled among assignments, often just to get rid of him. In 1966, while attending classes for new plainclothes investigators, he met Serpico. He too had refused to take payoffs, and had been shunned — and threatened — by fellow officers.
Beyond hating graft, they had little in common. Durk was a clean-cut collegian with friends in government and the news media, wore conservative suits and lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with his wife and two daughters. Serpico was a shaggy, bearded loner who grew up in Brooklyn, served in the Korean War, joined the police in 1959 and lived in Greenwich Village.
But in 1967 they became allies, and over the next few years they complained to high-ranking police and City Hall officials, including Jay Kriegel, Mayor John Lindsay’s police liaison, and Arnold Fraiman, the commissioner of investigation.
They provided names, dates, places and other information, but were told that nothing could be done. Fraiman later said the information was not specific enough. Kriegel said City Hall was worried about alienating the police in a period of civil disturbances.
Frustrated, they went to The New York Times. In a series of articles based on a six-month inquiry, David Burnham reported in 1970 that drug dealers, gamblers and merchants were making “illicit payments of millions of dollars a year to the policemen of New York."