“Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to read is true.”
Many of us are familiar with the opening voice over from the “Dragnet” radio and television series.
A dragnet is a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals and other individuals. The term comes from the fishing technique of dragging a fishing net across the sea bottom or through a promising area of open water. While the fishing reference has been around for centuries, the police reference isn’t nearly as old.
In a book entitled ”Illinois Parole Law” published in 1942 by the Department of Public Welfare for the State of Illinois it was stated that:
Two-fifths of Illinois population is in Cook county and the board is continually endeavoring to adjust its work to the problems of the city. Two reasons actuate it. First, a desire to protect the city from persons who have in the past been guilty of crime, and, second, ad esire to protect the parolee from the police dragnet and the many temptations and handicaps of city life.
Ten years before that, on May 18, 1932, newspapers reported that Luigi Malvese, bootleg gangster, was ambushed and shot to death in front of the Del Monte Barbershop at 720 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco, California. It was reported that “a police dragnet rounded up some 1,000 usual suspects in an attempt to pressure the underworld to rein in its wild men.” Louis Dinato, Al Capone’s tailor, was among those rounded up.
But long before the gangsters of the Prohibition Era, back in 1917, Ordway Rider was shot and died from a bullet wound to the chest. His death was a cause célèbre in Edwardian Boston, pushing stories of war off the front page of all the papers for days. According to the February 23 edition of The Boston Globe, in an article entitled “Police Dragnet Out For Bandits” it was reported that:
” … Ordway Rider was shot and instantly killed on the night of Feb. 21st 1917 by Bandits. Robbery was the motive. He was manager of one of the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company’s stores. He was held in high esteem by the company. His age was 58-6months.”
That being said, the earliest published reference I could find that speaks of a police dragnet was found in The Chicago Daily Tribune which published a news story on January 19, 1896 with the headline, “Bicycle Thieves Caught in Meshes of Police Dragnet.”