My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #8: The Interrogation

This episode of Dragnet turned on a speech by Friday, but what a speech!

Friday and Gannon are working in Internal Affairs and a young undercover officer is brought in, suspected of being involved in a robbery. The young officer expresses frustration with being accused and explains how his career has cost him his girlfriend.

It’s then that Webb delivers one of Friday’s most memorable speeches, “What is a Cop” which explains the hardaches and sorrows of a policeman’s job and what makes it so important. (The full transcript is at the bottom of this post via Badge 714.)

The speech was an instant hit, being entered into the Congressional Record in both the House and Senate, by Republican and Democratic members of Congress. It earned Webb recognition from the International Conference of Police Associations. The speech and sometimes the whole episode was used by Police Academies across the nation.

Webb’s delivery was flawless. Webb’s inflection and facial expression made the speech perfect. According to Michael J. Hayde, the original version of the speech written by Preston Wood didn’t seem good enough to Webb, so he turned to his  long time friend Richard Breen, who wrote the 1954 and 1966 Dragnet movies, and also had written for Webb on Pat Novak for Hire. Breen rewrote the speech, but died before it could air.  Webb’s delivery was a fitting tribute to his great friend.

“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.”

One Response to “My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #8: The Interrogation”

  1. Tracy says:

    Of all of the “Jesus Speeches” that were done by Webb as Joe Friday, the “What is a Cop” speech is in my opinion the greatest speech that was done in the 1960s series. One thing I like about this particular presentation of the episode from hulu and the transcript, is that it is the complete speech; I remember watching this episode on Nick at Nite some years ago and they cut out parts of the speech, which did take away from some of its impact. What also made this episode memorable was not only the speech, but the background music being only a drum in many places including the intro and closing theme music.

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