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Monday, July 4, 2011

Suggested Reading: "On The Pad: The Underworld And Its Corrupt Police, Confessions of a Cop on the Take" by Leonard Shecter & William Phillips (1973)

    On the pad: the underworld and its corrupt police;: Confessions of a cop on the take,On the Pad: The Underworld and its Corrupt Police, Confessions of a Cop on the Take by Leonard Shecter & William Phillips

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars


    "On the Pad: The Underworld and its Corrupt Police, the Confessions of A Cop On The Take" may be one of the finest "Cop Books" you'll ever read. I've read a few myself and this one rose immediately to near the top of my list.

    This is the story of one-time New York City cop/Detective named William "Bill" Phillips (co-author of the book) and how, after over a decade on the New York City police force, when he was caught accepting bribe money from a well-known Midtown brothel owner in 1968, Phillips became entangled in circumstances that soon found him, under threat of life in prison - or worse, chipping away at the "Blue Wall of Silence," wearing a wire as an instrument of the Knapp Comission on Police Corruption, taking down the careers of many of the men he'd worked with on the force over the years. Some of the cops he took down were men Phillips himself, years earlier, had trained in on the complexities of "going on the pad," that is, taking bribe money for protection or the guarantee that police would not interfere with a known criminal's daily activities. As long as the cash kept coming, greasing the wheels at all levels of the NYPD (and, some suggested, even members of the New York District Attorney's Office and even certain Judges) - the criminal was mostly free to do his business with impunity.

    The son of a hard drinking, diciplinarian father who was himself a New York City cop, William Phillips, at that time in his life estranged almost completely from his father, flounders around for the first few years of his young adult life, eventually choosing to follow in his fathers footsteps and "joining the cops." He figured it was a good, solid job with good benefits and an early retirement. And, he reasoned, he'd really be doing something. He had no way of knowing, when he joined the force, just how good some of those "benefits" would be.

    Almost from the time he started working the streets as an officer on foot patrol, Phillips was indoctrinated into a then-prevalent Police culture of pay-offs and back-room deals. A "numbers guy" would pay him $10 a week to stay off his back and out of his business. There was a $10 in it for his partner as well. And maybe $25 for the Captain at the Precinct house. And there were lots of numbers men and they all knew the score: Want the cops to leave you alone? Pay up. And they did. As did pimps, madams, dope dealers, street users, "mobbed up guys" and just about any criminal with a mind to make money in New York City during the 1960's. Many guilty (and innocent) civilians paid as well, just to get out of potential legal entanglements that had the propensity to ruin a man's reputation or career. Pay...and it all goes away. Don't pay? Get tossed in "the can." They all seemed to pay. And a great many, according to Phillips, maybe most, but not all...of his fellow NYPD brothers were in on this arrangement. It was hard not to be. There was money all around. It was offered freely in many instances. And it was a system that had been going on for many, many years. Decades even. In the book, Phillips, with priamry author Leonard Shecter, details how he worked his way up and through the NYPD and worked his way through the pocket-books of a great many of the city's criminal entrepreneurs, working his way up from $5 payoffs to protection deals that made him sometimes up to thousands of dollars each. And over the years there were hunderds and hunderds of these deals that Phillips was either directly involved in or knew of firsthand from those he worked with.

    One small, weasely guy with a wiretap and the Knapp Comissions investigations into police corruption would prove to be Phillips' downfall. Phillips, not relishing the thought of spending most, if not all of the rest of his life behind bars, was brought under the umbrella of the Knapp Comission and, after being "turned" was soon loosed upon the NYPD's corrupt cops as the ultimate traitor to the badge and "the code." Bill Phillips, once thought of by most of his fellow cops as one of the "good guys," turned snitch and informant. It was a move that sealed his fate within the ranks of the Department. After cooperating with the Knapp Comission, taking down numerous corrupt cops in the process, Phillips' cover was eventually blown and he was removed from the department and placed into hiding with a paid security force to keep him safe - from the criminals he'd arrested - and those he'd set up for protection then let blow in the wind - and from the members of the NYPD who didn't see his cooperation with the whole Knapp Comission thing as something any respectable policeman would take part in. Phillips was a marked man.

    This is the story of how a young, eager police rookie became a product of his environment - Phillips was just doing what so many others on the force were doing and had been doing for decades - making a bit of extra cash. As his skills for deception and persuasion increased over time, "a bit" would eventually become "a lot" of extra cash. It seemed innocent enough to begin with, but his increasingly bold and criminal actions would eventually lead him down a path that would see him arrested and forced from the Police force in disgrace. There was also rumored to be a $200,000 contract on his life. Then there was all the time he spent in court trials as a devastating star witness for the Knapp Comission. And ultimately, Phillips would find himself fighting off charges of double-murder that seemd to come from nowhere once his cover in the Knapp Comission was blown. The fact that he co-authored a book gives away the fact that the contract on him was never carried out - he lived to tell his tale - and an amazing tale it is.

    After many years of law enforcement reform in New York City and in the country as a whole, and the very differnt styles of policing used on the streets in US cities today, this book sometimes reads like a fictional "True Crime" novel or the script for a B-grade, made-for-TV cop movie. Only here, the stories are all too real. And you'll probably be all too eager to continue reading this book straight through until 3:00am, long after you should be asleep and your eyes have become blury from reading. "On the Pad" is a real page-turner in the truest sense of the word...you can hardly wait too see what happens on the following page.


    *"On The Pad," published in 1973, is an excellent companion piece and great follow-up reading to the book "The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge" by T.J. English, published earlier this year. In fact, the pages of "The Savage City" are where I first became aware of "On The Pad." You can read our review of "The Savage City" HERE.

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Suggested Reading: "On The Pad: The Underworld And Its Corrupt Police, Confessions of a Cop on the Take" by Leonard Shecter & William Phillips (1973)


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