Soapy is keen to get arrested by any policeman. He commits several of his misdemeanors in plain sight of a uniformed cop but fails to have his wish fulfilled. Even as the story begins, Soapy is committing one or two misdemeanors by sleeping on a park bench. He could be arrested every night for vagrancy. The cops who patrol Madison Square must see him there but leave him alone as long as he is gone by morning. When he hurls a cobblestone through a plate-glass store window he tells the cop he is the guilty party, but the cop does not believe him and does not want to have a lot of trouble hauling a prisoner to the station only to have him deny everything. He molests a woman in view of a cop who is standing nearby watching him. He acts drunk and disorderly in front of another cop who thinks, or perhaps pretends to think, he is a college boy celebrating a football victory. He steals an umbrella with a cop standing a short distance away but the owner is afraid to press charges because he stole the umbrella himself.
The plain fact is that cops past and present do not like to make arrests. Arresting people takes up a lot of their time. They may have to write up reports in legalese, and in many cases they may have to appear as witnesses in court on their own time, with or without compensation. Judges do not want the police to bury them under heavy case loads. The public does not want to pay higher taxes to create more judges and more court houses. No doubt the police could arrest ten times as many people on one charge or another, but the courts cannot handle the cases and the jails cannot accommodate all the prisoners. Only a small percentage of crimes actually get punished. Nearly everyone commits crimes or misdemeanors at one time or another. As Hamlet asks: "Use every man after his desert And who shall 'scape whipping?" Or as Jesus says to the mob who want to stone a woman to death for committing adultery: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8.7). Which of us could cast that first stone? Another of the truths, or themes, of "The Cop and the Anthem" is that cops serve mainly as symbols of the law, and the law itself is largely symbolic because if all the laws were strictly enforced half the population would be in jail and the other half would be guarding them.
An article in Wikipedia quotes the following statistics:
According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in US federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2011—about 0.94% of adults in the US resident population. Additionally, 4,814,200 adults at year-end 2011 were on probation or on parole. In total, 6,977,700 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2011—about 2.9% of adults in the US resident population.