Secret Police: Inside the New York City Department of Investigation
The Department of Investigation does some of the more interesting work in New York: Its undercover investigators look into white-collar crimes and corruption that the police don’t have the resources to investigate. Peter Benjaminson worked at the DOI in its heyday, from 1991 to 1993. (He’s also a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers and the author of Death in the Afternoon: America’s Newspaper Giants Struggle for Survival, 1984.)
The DOI, it seems, typically suffers from in-fighting, corruption, and many of the troubles it was formed to combat, but in 1991 Susan Shepard, who was dead-set on honesty, took command. The cases described here range from a welfare scam that netted $45 million to a parking-meter ploy that resulted in the loss of a lot of quarters. But the stories suffer from both a paucity of compelling material and from a mediocre telling. While Benjaminson is purportedly interested in justice, his real fury erupts when he details the number of times other departments, particularly the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, took credit for DOI arrests.
It’s sad that Benjaminson has very little to say about the reasons for, and effects of, the light sentences the DOI criminals face. These white-collar criminals, all of whom have looted the city’s coffers, get little to no prison time, and some are rewarded—the upstate water police, for example, preferred giving out speeding tickets to actually guarding the state’s water supply, and as punishment were given brand-new cruisers. In his desire to claim bragging rights, Benjaminson neglects the bigger picture, and the book comes off sounding like a series of petty complaints. A catalog of minutiae that trivializes the crimes it reports and the DOI’s relevance to New York.