Stereotypically, the world of the police is seen as one that excludes Jews. Hannah Arendt described it as “the traditional Jewish fear of the ‘cop’ – that seeming incarnation of a hostile world.” This is because policing is seen as a very goyische profession embodying goyim naches.
Consequently, the idea of the Jewish cop is considered an oxymoron and the price of admission into, as well as acceptance, within the police “family” has often been Jewish self-hatred. This has been played out in many films such as David Mamet’s Homicide (1991).
Alternatively, given the very thought of a Jewish cop, it has frequently been treated as a fertile subject for humor. In Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), for example, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), after being hauled into a police station for drunk driving, makes a call to his mother. She asks what the cop’s name is and he replies “Sargent Emil Klinger.” After a double take, he says with a chuckle, “No. I didn’t believe it either.”
Series three of the BBC One television drama series, WPC 56, in contrast, took a middle route between these two poles in its character of Detective Inspector Harry Sawyer (Oliver Rix).
WPC 56 is set in a fictional police force in the West Midlands, circa 1956. It revolves around the first female police – WPC stands for Woman Police Constable – to join the Brinford Constabulary.
DI Harry Sawyer is neither a joke nor a self-hating Jew. In fact Harry is a breath of fresh air. Being British-born, from Birmingham, as is his mother, he has a British accent. He’s handsome, with dark good looks, clearly attractive, and got an eye for the ladies.
Most significant from my perspective is that his Jewishness is incidental to his characterization, not the main reason for it. Certainly, his ethnicity is no barrier to his entry into, or promotion within the ranks of the police force. In fact, Harry keeps his Jewishness strictly private. We don’t know if he even practises anything and we only learn of Harry’s Jewishness because, in various domestic scenes with his family, we meet his mother and dying grandmother.
In another twist, Harry is investigating a crime which has its roots in the Second World War and without saying too much more it involves Nazi medical experiments and avenging Jewish twins.
DI Harry Sawyer demonstrates that Jews need not fear the cop nor that the world of the police has to be perceived as hostile.
I wrote this before I had watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine which stars Andy Samberg as Detective Jacob “Jake” Peralta, the best and cockiest cop in the precinct. Jake completely collapses Arendt’s notion and when I have the chance more will be written about it.