When Detective Sergeant Ralph Salerno retired from the New York City Police Department in 1967 he was regarded as knowing more about the American Mafia than any other person not sworn into the criminal society. He was reviled by the mob as an Italian who had "betrayed his own people" by turning in wise guys to the law.
Recriminations and threats meant nothing to Salerno. One time he was confronted in court after a guilty verdict in a murder charge against the defendant's brother. The brother wanted to know how he could do such a "low-life" thing as hurting his own kind.
Salerno bristled, "I'm not your kind, and you're not my kind. My manner, morals and mores are not yours. The only thing we have in common is that we both spring from an Italian heritage and culture—and you are the traitor to that heritage and culture, which I am proud to be part of." It was a lecture that undoubtedly soared way above the mobster's comprehension level.
What the mob came to recognize in Salerno is a policeman without fear and without temptation and a "master bugger." Salerno was considered the no. 1 expert on court-authorized wiretaps. He could determine by the nuances in an eavesdropped conversation if, for example, a wanted mobster was simply making himself scarce or had ended up "swimming with the fishes" or some similar sealed fate.
Salerno's conviction total of Mafia types made him much sought after as an expert witness on loan-sharking and other criminal activities, and he appeared before both houses of Congress and in federal and state courts. He also lectured frequently at universities in the United States and Canada.
When Salerno retired in 1967 he had put in more than 20 years in the police department's intelligence branch and as a supervisor of detectives in the central investigations division. He later served as a consultant in the Department of Justice and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. His 1969 book, The Crime Confederation, is regarded a classic of the field.