Perp Walk: The History Of Parading Criminal Suspects

Michele Norris talks with David Krajicek about the history of the so-called perp walk — and why law enforcement uses it, particularly in New York City. They discuss why the media is drawn to these and talk about some famous perp walks in the U.S.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The image of Dominique Strauss-Kahn being led by handcuffs by a team of law enforcement officers added to the international firestorm surrounding the former IMF chief in May. At the time, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not mince words.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): You know, if you don't want to do the perp walk, don't do the crime.

NORRIS: Now with the state's sexual assault case against Strauss-Kahn in tatters, Bloomberg has reversed himself. Earlier this week, he said the practice is quote, "outrageous." As you heard, it's called the perp walk when suspects are led off in handcuffs into or out of court rooms or police facilities. It's a staple of the law enforcement system around the country, and especially in New York city.

We were curious about the history of the perp walk and so we called up David Krajicek. He's special correspondent for the New York Daily News, and he studied how law enforcement agencies use perp walks. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DAVID KRAJICEK (Special Correspondent, New York Daily News): Thank you so much, Michele.

NORRIS: Walk us through the standard perp walk.

Mr. KRAJICEK: The press office at police headquarters will notify reporters the time and place that the perp walk is going to occur. And usually they give us a heads up of an hour or so, so we can get there with our microphones and our cameras and our video recorders.

NORRIS: So the goal is to make sure that there is an audience?

Mr. KRAJICEK: Yeah. You know, the NYPD rules say that they will neither impede nor promote photos. You should also know that the police department, as well as federal law enforcement agencies, use this as kind of an atta-boy for cops, you know. It's considered to be a mark of prestige if they are perp walking John Gotti, let's say.

NORRIS: How did this come to be such standard practice in New York City in particular?

Mr. KRAJICEK: There's some dispute, but it's been happening in New York City for most of a hundred years or so. And it's probably actually J. Edgar Hoover who's responsible. Hoover knew that it was great PR for citizens of America to see one his public enemies in handcuffs. You put somebody in handcuffs and surround them by cops, they look guilty. I mean, Gandhi would look guilty in shackles and chains.

NORRIS: You know, some of these perp walks have actually ambled their way into history books. Can you walk us through some of that? What are the most famous perp walks that immediately come to mind?

Mr. KRAJICEK: Well, the perp walk that is most famous that went bad was the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas by Jack Ruby as he was being perp walked through a parking garage.

In 1995, there was a kind of a goofy case in New York City where a TV station wanted a perp walk on an individual who was accused basically of going through a woman's lingerie drawer. He was a doorman at a building. And the police perp walked him out of the precinct, put him in a police car, took him around the block, brought him back in and walked him back in for the benefit of a single camera. It basically led to a court ruling that said that perp walks, while they're allowed under the Fourth Amendment, should only be used for necessary law enforcement purposes.

And then another horrible case, Michele, involved a Wall Street figure named Richard Wigton. This goes back to 1987. He was a trader on Wall Street. He was led out of his office on charges of insider trading. He was in tears. He wept as he was being led away. It was kind of a horrible scene. Two-and-a-half years later, the investigation was completely called off. He was forced to retire and he basically said his life had been ruined.

NORRIS: Has the Strauss-Kahn case called this whole practice of the perp walk into question now?

Mr. KRAJICEK: It absolutely has. I think, in general, perp walks are fading. And I think this might be a tipping point in that. They're fading largely because police departments have gotten so good at getting digitalized(ph) mug shot images widely distributed to the media on a timely basis.

NORRIS: David Krajicek, thanks so much for your time.

Mr. KRAJICEK: You're welcome, Michele.

NORRIS: That was David Krajicek. He's a special correspondent for the New York Daily News and the author of numerous books on crime, including "Scooped! Media Missed Real Story on Crime While Chasing Sex, Sleaze, and Celebrities."

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.