Jack Webb, who played Sergeant Joe Friday on the long running radio and television series Dragnet also wrote a book called The Badge. I got the book a couple months ago to read again. My first introduction to Webb’s book was when I was a kid. Webb features the cops who he met and worked with as he researched his program and movie Dragnet 1954. The initial copyright shown on the book was 1958. I provide you this background information to help you gain perspective into Webb’s observations and comments. Even though they are nearly 50 years old. The observations are the same. The following quote comes from one of the programs that was transcribed. Please note the exclusive gender references was common to the period. The dedication of the men and women of policing were equally respected by Webb. Some things are better, officers have representation and receive better benefits and pay than what Webb states below. The general overview is the same. Only the 1950’s slang has changed.
“What Is a Cop?”
(From “The Interrogation”)
Written by: Preston Wood
Jack delivers the following speech about the trials and tribulations of being a police officer to a rookie undercover officer suspected of robbing a liquor store. It’s the most-requested Jack Webb speeches, and many people frame the words. (Please note that this transcript was taken from the slightly edited Nick at Nite version of this episode.
“It’s awkward having a policeman around the house. Friends drop in, a man with a badge answers the door, the temperature drops 20 degrees.
You throw a party and that badge gets in the way. All of a sudden there isn’t a straight man in the crowd. Everybody’s a comedian. “Don’t drink too much,” somebody says, “or the man with a badge’ll run you in.” Or “How’s it going, Dick Tracy? How many jaywalkers did you pinch today?” And then there’s always the one who wants to know how many apples you stole.
All at once you lost your first name. You’re a cop, a flatfoot, a bull, a dick, John Law. You’re the fuzz, the heat; you’re poison, you’re trouble, you’re bad news. They call you everything, but never a policeman.
It’s not much of a life, unless you don’t mind missing a Dodger game because the hotshot phone rings. Unless you like working Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, at a job that doesn’t pay overtime. Oh, the pay’s adequate– if you count pennies you can put your kid through college, but you better plan on seeing Europe on your television set.
And then there’s your first night on the beat. When you try to arrest a drunken prostitute in a Main St. bar and she rips your new uniform to shreds. You’ll buy another one– out of your own pocket.
And you’re going to rub elbows with the elite– pimps, addicts, thieves, bums, winos, girls who can’t keep an address and men who don’t care. Liars, cheats, con men– the class of Skid Row.
And the heartbreak– underfed kids, beaten kids, molested kids, lost kids, crying kids, homeless kids, hit-and-run kids, broken-arm kids, broken-leg kids, broken-head kids, sick kids, dying kids, dead kids. The old people nobody wants– the reliefers, the pensioners, the ones who walk the street cold, and those who tried to keep warm and died in a $3 room with an unventilated gas heater. You’ll walk your beat and try to pick up the pieces.
Do you have real adventure in your soul? You better have, because you’re gonna do time in a prowl car. Oh, it’s going to be a thrill a minute when you get an unknown-trouble call and hit a backyard at two in the morning, never knowing who you’ll meet– a kid with a knife, a pill-head with a gun, or two ex-cons with nothing to lose.
And you’re going to have plenty of time to think. You’ll draw duty in a lonely car, with nobody to talk to but your radio.
Four years in uniform and you’ll have the ability, the experience and maybe the desire to be a detective. If you like to fly by the seat of your pants, this is where you belong. For every crime that’s committed, you’ve got three million suspects to choose from. And most of the time, you’ll have few facts and a lot of hunches. You’ll run down leads that dead-end on you. You’ll work all-night stakeouts that could last a week. You’ll do leg work until you’re sure you’ve talked to everybody in the state of California.
People who saw it happen – but really didn’t. People who insist they did it – but really didn’t. People who don’t remember – those who try to forget. Those who tell the truth – those who lie. You’ll run the files until your eyes ache.
And paperwork? Oh, you’ll fill out a report when you’re right, you’ll fill out a report when you’re wrong, you’ll fill one out when you’re not sure, you’ll fill one out listing your leads, you’ll fill one out when you have no leads, you’ll fill out a report on the reports you’ve made! You’ll write enough words in your lifetime to stock a library.
You’ll learn to live with doubt, anxiety, frustration. Court decisions that tend to hinder rather than help you. Dorado, Morse, Escobedo, Cahan. You’ll learn to live with the District Attorney, testifying in court, defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys, judges, juries, witnesses. And sometimes you’re not going to be happy with the outcome.
But there’s also this: there are over 5,000 men in this city, who know that being a policeman is an endless, glamourless, thankless job that’s gotta be done.
I know it, too, and I’m damn glad to be one of them.”