Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed, to protect the innocent.
George Fenneman, Narrator, series opening
— the documented drama of an actual crime investigated and solved by the men who unrelentingly stand watch on the security of your home, your family, and your life. For the next thirty minutes, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department, you will travel step by step on the side of the law through an actual case from official police files. From beginning to end, from crime to punishment, Dragnet
is the story of your police force in action!
Hal Gibney, Narrator, introduction of program
You're a detective sergeant. You're assigned to robbery detail. There is a potential killer on the loose in your city. Eighteen women have been beaten and robbed by this man. The newspapers call him "the Werewolf". Your job: get him.
Hal Gibney, Narrator, episode preview, "The Werewolf" (Production 3, June 17, 1949)
It was Saturday, November 23rd — it was warm in Los Angeles. We were working the night watch out of homicide detail. My partner's Ben Romero; the boss is Blaine Steve, Captain of Homicide. My name's Friday. It was 6:35 p.m. when we got to the corner of Western and Lexington: Western Fur Shop.
"The Big Mink" (Production 54, June 22, 1950)
Chief Backstrand: All right, here it is. Fifty-five minutes ago, a man walked into this building with a homemade bomb under his arm. If we don't release his brother from the county jail by nine o'clock this morning, he says he'll pull the trigger on the bomb and blow up the whole building.
Sgt. Romero: He's kidding, skipper.
Sgt. Friday: Who is the guy?
Chief Backstrand: Name's Vernon Carney. Here's his package. He and his brother have been in and out of jail since 1937. Small time thieves.
Sgt. Friday: Yeah. Here's the FBI kickback — we had them once before, both of them.
Chief Backstrand: Brother's name is Elwood. Serving a year for a car-stripping.
Sgt. Romero: And this two-bit thief is sitting in here with a bomb on his lap?
That's right — in the next room.
"Attempted City Hall Bombing" (Production 7, July 21, 1949)
I left the office and went down in the elevator, alone. I got in the car and I started over for Ben's place. I thought about what I was gonna say to his wife. I thought about his little boy. I thought about Ben. Eleven years I'd been working as a cop, and all of a sudden it wasn't the same anymore.
I thought about the first day I met Ben. I was a rookie. I remembered what he'd taught me about being a cop. I thought about how much I owed him. I thought about the thousands of cops just like him all over the country, the ones that came before us, the ones that will take our place. I thought about their lives and their homes and their families, what they meant - what their jobs meant. I thought about Ben. Eleven years. Stakeouts, the early morning watch, interrogations, office duty - you could cover it in volumes or you could write it on the back of an envelope. He was a good cop and he was a good friend. There wasn't much else to say. It was a big loss.
"The Big Sorrow" (December 27, 1951)
Carl RockwellTV Show
: [to the officer who's been questioning him]
Go swallow a germ, you n——- cop! Friday
: Now you listen to me, you gutter-mouth punk. I've dealt with you before, and every time I did, it took me a month to wash off the filth. I'll tell you what you did to that four-year old girl out in Westlake Park: you staked out a bench like you've always done. You bought a sack of penny candy; you waited until the right little girl came along... You got her in your car. She started to cry; you hit her across the mouth twice. You cut her lip with your ring. Knocked out three of her teeth. And then you know what you did to her... Now, I didn't say that, Rockwell, you did. That's exactly what you told those officers who arrested you. They advised you of your constitutional rights before you opened your mouth. Now you're trying to tell us you didn't understand. Well, you're a liar... Like every hoodlum since Cain up through Capone, you've learned to hide behind some quirk in the law. And mister, you are a two-bit hoodlum. You've fallen twice for A.D.W.; burglary, three times. Twice for forcible rape; I tagged you for those. And now you've graduated: you've moved to the sewer. You're a child molester. And this isn't the first time; we have had you in here before. You were guilty then and mister, you're guilty now. And one last thing, you smart mouth punk: If the department doesn't question the color of his skin you damn well see you don't!
"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 Street 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 all 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, Culver? You'd 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 2 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 3 million suspects to choose from. 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 make 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."
"The Interrogation" (February 9, 1967)
: Sgt. Friday, lead the way. Don't look so hangdog. How old did you say those two were that you say I hit? Friday
: The woman was 67; the man was 73. Fillmore
: Well, I'm sorry, but it isn't as if they were going to live much longer, anyway. Isn't that right? Lawyer
: I'd suggest that you don't say anything more, Clay. Clayton Fillmore
: But it's true. I am sorry. Friday
: Yeah, well sorry won't bring them back, Fillmore. Fillmore
The dedicated cop. Lawyer
: Now you have a right to remain silent, Clay. I advise you to do so. Friday
: There's no rule against him listening, is there? Lawyer
: Depends on what you say to him, sergeant. Friday
: Yeah, well, I'll try to be careful. Fillmore, maybe as far as you're concerned, those two people lived all the live you figure they should. But what gives you the right to end it for them? It really doesn't bother you, does it? You were in a 30 mile zone, you were doing 50, maybe 55 miles an hour. Those two people you hit were knocked 77 feet, six inches down the street from the point of impact. We believe you'd been drinking this time, too. This isn't the first time for you. You got a drunk driving record that goes back to your high school days. Every time, you've beaten it, haven't you? Down the hall there is traffic enforcement division. We've got good laws and they try and enforce them, but they have an impossible job. There are 130 miles of freeway in this city, better than six thousand miles of surface streets. Every ten minutes, there's an accident; every ten minutes, somebody like you tries to kill himself or somebody else. You blew 20 minutes of that time all by yourself. Mister, you killed two human beings; two people who were alive and breathing seconds before you ran 'em down, and you've got the monumental gall to stand here and say they wouldn't have lived much longer. You may be out on bail in a couple of hours, and if so, you take this to lunch with you. Two people are lying over there in the county morgue, and you put 'em there. You were in a hurry the night you killed 'em, you're in a hurry now to see how fast you can forget. I want to wish you a lot of luck. I hope it takes the rest of your life.
"The Hit and Run Driver" (April 6, 1967)
: Don't think you have a corner on all the virtue vision in the country or that everyone else is fat and selfish and yours is the first generation to come along that's felt dissatisfied. They all have, you know, about different things; and most of them didn't have the opportunity and freedoms that you have. Let's talk poverty. Most places in the world, that's not the problem; it's a way of life. And rights? They're liable to give you a blank stare because they may not know what you're talking about. The fact is more people are living better right here than anywhere else ever before in history. So don't expect us to roll over and play dead when you say you're dissatisfied. It's not perfect; but it's a great deal better than when we grew up: a hundred men standing in the street hoping for one job, selling apples on the street corner. That's one of the things we were dissatisfied about, and you don't see that much anymore. Gannon
: You're taller, stronger, healthier, and you live longer than the last generation; and we don't think that's altogether bad. You've probably never seen a "Quarantine" sign on a neighbor's door. Diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping cough; probably none of your classmates are crippled with polio. You don't see many mastoid scars anymore. We've done quite a bit of fighting all around the world. Whether you think it was moral or not a lot of people are free to make their own mistakes today because of it. And that may just include you. Friday
: I don't know, maybe part of it's the fact that you're in a hurry. You've grown up on instant orange juice. Flip a dial - instant entertainment. Dial seven digits - instant communication. Turn a key - push a pedal - instant transportation. Flash a card - instant money. Shove in a problem - push a few buttons - instant answers. But some problems you can't get quick answers for, no matter how much you want them. We took a little boy into Central Receiving Hospital yesterday; he's four years old. He weighs eight-and-a-half pounds. His parents just hadn't bothered to feed him. Now give me a fast answer to that one; one that'll stop that from ever happening again. And if you can't settle that one, how about the 55,000 Americans who'll die on the highway this year? That's nearly six or seven times the number that'll get killed in Vietnam. Why aren't you up in arms about that? Or is dying in a car somehow moral? Show me how to wipe out prejudice. I'll settle for the prejudices you have inside yourselves. Show me how to get rid of the unlimited capacity for human beings to make themselves believe they're somehow right - and justified - in stealing from somebody, or hurting somebody, and you'll just about put this place here out of business! Gannon
: Don't think we're telling you to lose your ideals or your sense of outrage. They're the only way things ever get done. And there's a lot more that still needs doing. And we hope you'll tackle it. You don't have to do anything dramatic like coming up with a better country. You can find enough to keep you busy right here. In the meantime, don't break things up in the name of progress or crack a placard stick over someone's head to make him see the light. Be careful of his rights. Because your property and your person and your rights aren't any better than his. And the next time you may be the one to get it. We remember a man who killed six million people, and called it social improvement. Friday
: Don't try to build a new country. Make this one work. It has for over four hundred years; and by the world's standards, that's hardly more than yesterday.
—The Big Departure (March 7, 1968)
"Just the tropes, ma'am.