I Carry a Badge, or What’s It Like to Be a Cop?

The internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks serving billions of users on the backbone of countless miles of wiring, dozens of communications satellites, several undersea cables, and a growing set of wireless systems. It is there to give people a place to talk to each other, air their views and sometimes their grievances, to teach and to learn. Every now and then, someone on the internet is wrong. When that happens, I go to work. I write a blog.

OK, now you have to watch the following short video, then come back and read the above paragraph again in the proper voice.

In one of the first episodes of Dragnet, Joe Friday and Bill Gannon are working Internal Affairs, where they are interrogating a young police officer accused of knocking over a liquor store. The young cop is played by the same actor who plays Officer Reed in Adam-12, which confused the hell out of us kids when I was little.

In this episode, Friday has a monologue that is nearly five minutes long, which must be some kind of record for TV, in which he uses the circumstances to lay down, in no uncertain terms, what it is like to be a cop.

The social transaction here is a major theme of both Dragnet and Adam-12, and one that would later be developed in new directions by TV shows like COPS. This is what it is like to be a cop. You may or may not like what cops do sometimes, but you have to live with them and you should appreciate their role. This scene is also a sort of defining moment for Jack Webb, producer of Dragnet (and Adam-12). His Bogart-like looks and voice are put to full effect here, backed by his obvious clout as a producer (no regular actor would get this indulgence).

My friend Karl and I used to write satire Dragnet scrips. In them, we had the wooden, stoic detective Sergeant Friday carrying out such acts of police work as holding a gun to his own head and saying to the running burglar, “Stop, or I’ll shoot!” We would have endless dialogs between Bill Gannon and Friday over home improvement projects Bill was working on, that he could not help but tell Joe about despite Joe’s utter lack of interest. But most of the fun was in writing dialog that was almost exactly like that used in the original shows, with but a word or two changed or moved.

I don’t know the degree to which these early cop shows socialized me (or my friends) in relation to what to expect of cops, or what to think about cops. I imagine that the period in my life after watching these TV shows, when I was getting my head busted by cops and being chased by cops and occasionally caught mattered more.

Recently, a cop was shot in Saint Paul, Minnesota. One experienced St. Paul cop noted that the area closed off by road blocks was the largest he had ever seen in years of police work. Two suspects were identified, and one killed (as of this writing is appears that the one who was killed was not armed with a gun). A cop was shot, so every cop in the region got involved in the manhunt, or so it seemed. SWAT teams and tanks roamed the streets of a large area that had been totally closed off.

Some people think cops overreact when one of their own is shot, and underreact when a regular citizen is shot. But a lot of people don’t agree with that and don’t mind the cops reacting like this. That later reaction is, in part, in my view, because TV has told us how to think about these matters.

In this scene, from Dragnet, a cop has been shot, and Sergeant Friday is canvassing for individuals who may have seen something. Note Friday’s reaction to the question that maybe the cops really do take care of their own.

Be scared.

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9 Responses to “I Carry a Badge, or What’s It Like to Be a Cop?”

  1. May 10th, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    CanadaGoose says:

    Putting everything on hulu guarantees that international visitors are shut out.

  2. May 10th, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Canada, I am aware that Hulu is unvailable outside the US. I don’t know another way to do what I’m doing, other than to simply not do it at all. I’m deeply sorry.

  3. May 10th, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Benjamin Geiger says:

    Too bad the tiny minority of cops ruin it for everyone else.

    (PS: Am I the only one who was startled to see Sherman Potter in the interrogation room?)

  4. May 10th, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Benjamin, there are those of use where were startled to see Officer Gannon in Korea with the rank of Colonel!

  5. May 10th, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Dave X says:

    I thought Harry Morgan/Bill Gannon looked like he fell asleep in the middle of Friday’s monologue.

  6. May 11th, 2010 at 12:13 am

    HP says:

    I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned this somewhere before, but you need (neeeeeeeed) to hunt down a Brazilian film called O homem do Sputnik. It’s out there, somewhere in the wild, untamed areas of the Internet. It is not — yet — covered under international copyright treaties, and you can still find it. For now. Hurry!

    You may not speak Brazilian Portuguese, but it doesn’t matter, as long as you have some minimal Romance language skills. Spanish, French, or Italian will work for you. But this movie is the Ultimate Cold War Comedy. Holy crap, between Zezé Macedo and Jô Soares (as The American spy) I thought I would never stop laughing.

    This is the ultimate recovering-from-knee-trauma movie for thinking people of a certain generation with a sense of history. I look forward to your review.

    (Note from Mike: edited only to fix tagging.)

  7. May 11th, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Dunc says:

    “I don’t know another way to do what I’m doing, other than to simply not do it at all. ”

    Maybe try using more words? Perhaps you could summarise, précis, or otherwise hint at whatever the videos illustrate?

  8. May 11th, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Greg Laden says:

    Dunc, I thought about that. I may do that if I have time. I can actually use stills and have the videos as well. They can’t stop me from making screen shots!

    This may be one of those projects where I run through the whole thing twice, with a major upgrade second time around.

  9. May 11th, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Pamela Cordon says:

    People still love to romanticize police officers. Look at the success of the CSI series and other detective dramas that are so popular now. I don’t personally like them and don’t watch. But many people I know do. I asked a friend what she liked about them and she answered that it was gratifying to see the detectives solve the cases at the end of the episode. I guess it still comes down to seeing the “good guys” win. I want to believe that most cops are abmirable people who genuinely want to help others. However, I am often shocked and disapointed when I see actual accounts of how the police have mishandled arrests of citizens. Oh well, reality really does “suck” sometimes. That’s why we have our favorite TV shows to distract us.

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