Thirty minute morality plays in color with a “buddy” subplot would be the best way to describe Adam 12. They were done in the 1960s and 1970s but the themes carry on to today. Perhaps more schmaltzy than the current era prefers but the underlying stories haven’t changed.
I’m most interested in their approach to two things on the show: drunk driving and domestic violence.
Drinking and driving fifty years ago was “bad” but not awful. The characters were usually colorful. Sometimes obnoxious, occasionally “whacky.” But that has changed over the years in how television portrays that crime and fortunately most jurisdictions have taken a similar stance. DUI is no longer a laughing matter. And in my mind that’s a great thing. I was one of those during that era who drove drunk. More than once. And I regret it. I quit doing it while I was in college. I never had an accident, never hurt anyone, but it was wrong. And thankfully the law is much more strict now than ever before with that crime. (Just for the record I truly haven’t done that in 30 years. That’s a story for another time.)
Domestic abuse is another story. They treated it but it’s obvious that it was a pain in the butt more than a serious crime as it was portrayed on the show. The cops didn’t want to deal with it, usually left without anyone in bracelets and generally just told them to work it out. I harken back to my days doing that job and I felt the same. The people who fought with each other every day and then involved the police were not fun to deal with. They ruined your day and took you away from other duties. Their houses were a mess, smelled bad, the people were unlovely and it as dangerous as could be. You never knew when one of the idiots involved would jump you or your partner. Or, worse yet, produce a weapon. Frankly we just hoped they’d quietly move to another jurisdiction before we had a murder on our hands. You knew a specific list of addresses by heart. You knew the participants by name and where they kept the keys to the car and the .44 magnum snubnose. (If it hadn’t been pawned to buy booze until payday.)
But up until recently *(relatively speaking)* nobody went to jail unless the other party demanded it.
That has changed 180 degrees. If there’s a problem and anyone is physically damaged many jurisdictions require an arrest to be made. The discretion has been eliminated. I have mixed feelings on that. I don’t approve anyone beating on anyone else in a marriage. Nor do I think that serious injury should be tolerated. But there is a very small gray area in these things that sometimes would best be served by not arresting people and getting them some counseling instead. There are clearly times when people are so emotionally overwhelmed that they need to be talked to, not cuffed. Sometimes a thrown plate is just that – not an attempt to hurt but a blown fuse and they will never do it again. Unfortunately, and usually, most of the violent ones have done it before and will do it again. Sadly many of the victims won’t seek help or press charges. I have one experience in particular that comes to mind and thirty years later it still disgusts me. But the laws have changed.
Perhaps taking away the discretion is more to get the cops off the hook than anything else. I think that’s what many officers prefer. I may have welcomed it myself. No second guessing in that case. But I’ve been on other calls where both parties were so at fault that arresting one of them was a statistic not a solution. And other times it was going to do more damage than good. It was clear that things had settled down, nobody was truly hurt (no bruises showing, an anger and hatred displayed that told you they might be lying just to get even and nothing else) and they would benefit from a talk but someone else had called it in. Now the police have a problem and somebody has to go.
Should it always be that way? And if not, when would that be? I’m not going to attempt to answer that one. Instead I’ll take the words of Officer Pete Malloy as my guide, “The only black and white thing in this job is the car.”
Again, I hope nobody misunderstands that sentiment. I’m against domestic abuse. I just don’t know what the threshold should be for adding an arrest record to the equation.
But if you watch enough episodes of Adam 12 you’ll see stories that haven’t changed in my lifetime. Or that of my parents. As a matter of fact they go right back to Adam and Eve… more than a bit of finger pointing there when they got busted for eating things they shouldn’t.
When you get a chance to spend a few hours turning your brain into a doughy substance, head over to Hulu.com and watch an episode. I know I enjoy them. And if you’re too young to remember the 1960s, make sure you have mom… or possibly grama… there to explain what hippies were. (You can still see them on display at Whole Foods on Tuesday afternoons. Check out the old people on the patchouli aisle.)