Are you old enough to have seen the police program “Dragnet” on one of those early black & white TVs? Back then, there were only a few available stations in L.A. and not many broadcasts to choose from – mostly local news, wrestling, roller derby, Lawrence Welk, and Spade Cooley. “Dragnet” would come on with its iconic opening four musical notes – “don ta dont dont” and then Sgt. Joe Friday (portrayed by Jack Webb) would start the episode.

Joe was a good cop – sensitive, competent, and seeking the truth (“just the facts, ma’am”). As a youngster, I assumed all cops were like that. I did not know any cops personally.

One night during my high school days, the famous Harlem Globetrotters came to play in our school gym before a packed paying audience. One of my classmates was a volunteer gate monitor and there was a big crowd anxious to get in and get the good seats in the bleachers. There were also police to handle crowd control.  

I was at the entrance and saw my friend and we started to chat. While we were chatting, one of the police officers came over to ask my buddy to let some of his friends sneak in but my buddy said that was wrong and declined. This made the officer angry and he stood off to the side, giving us dirty looks.  

Suddenly, a group of kids got past the gate and made a dash for the gym and my buddy tried to stop them; the police officer saw what was happening but then he looked the other way and refused to help. I was upset that this so-called adult who was supposed to uphold the law would not help my friend who was just a young student volunteer trying to do the right thing. 

Jack Webb played Sgt. Joe Friday on “Dragnet” in the 1950s and ’60s.

This singular episode changed my idealistic view of police officers. They are not all like Joe Friday. Though they should be held to a higher standard, yet I became aware that cops are flawed individuals like everybody else.

On another note, one of my Sunday school teachers was a man named Shiro Tomita who later became an LAPD sergeant. Shiro was a colorful personality – extremely funny, tall and athletic, kind and compassionate – I thought he could be an Asian American Joe Friday. Shiro reinforced my image of a good cop.

Later, when I was working at the Little Tokyo Service Center, I met an LAPD cop named Jack Richter whose beat included Little Tokyo. Jack knew many of the people of Little Tokyo and he would wear a yukata and dance in the Nisei Week Ondo! Jack was a good cop. 

I once got an email from the Hawthorne chief of police, Mike Ishii, who invited me to visit the HPD and see the work they have been doing in community-based policing; I figured anyone willing to showcase their police work like this has likely built a team of good cops.

The public image of police officers recently has shifted dramatically where it is black-and-white clear that there are good cops, bad cops and a bunch in between. Too many who wear the badge wield their power to the point of abuse – especially towards people of color as seen in too many police-cam videos. It is a stark reality that police work, which is one of the most challenging of jobs, is not immune from systemic racism.

There is good and bad in most human systems – and in police work, we need to support the good ones and weed out the bad ones. Law enforcement is a high calling and we need some of the best to answer that call – “to serve and protect.”


Bill Watanabe writes from Silver Lake near Downtown Los Angeles and can be reached at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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