O. Henry wanted to have Soapy commit a series of petty crimes in the hope of getting arrested and sentenced to spend the harsh winter months in jail. The author saw that these petty crimes would need to have variety in order to keep the reader interested. Soapy could not just keep going into restaurants and then revealing he could not pay for what he had eaten and drunk. One of the things that makes "The Cop and the Anthem" interesting is the variety of misdemeanors Soapy either commits or attempts to commit.
First he goes into an expensive restaurant intending to order the best the place has to offer. O. Henry itemizes Soapy's prospective banquet in order to characterize both the man and the establishment. "A roasted mallard duck, thought Soapy, would be about the thing—with a bottle of Chablis, and then Camembert, a demitasse and a cigar. One dollar for the cigar would be enough." But the head waiter escorts him out after seeing the condition of his shoes and trousers.
Next Soapy throws a cobblestone through a plate-glass window and stands waiting for a policeman to respond to the crash. But the cop who arrives on the scene will not believe that the culprit would still be standing at the scene of the crime.
Next Soapy goes into another restaurant "of no great pretensions," where his clothing will not prevent him from being seated and served. "At a table he sat and consumed beefsteak, flapjacks, doughnuts and pie. And then to the waiter he betrayed the fact that the minutest coin and himself were strangers." But instead of having him arrested, two waiters toss him out onto the sidewalk.
Then Soapy pretends to be a "masher" with a cop standing only a short distance away. Soapy probably expects to get arrested for disorderly conduct or possibly even assault, but the young woman he approaches turns out to be a prostitute, although O. Henry probably never used that word in print. The young woman walks off with Soapy as if they are old friends, and he has failed for a fourth time to get arrested. He could hardly have gone into another restaurant after gorging on beefsteak, donuts, flapjacks, and pie. O. Henry specifies that Soapy consumes four heavy items in order to make it understandable to the reader that Soapy would have to give up his restaurant trick for at least long enough to digest what he had consumed.
Soapy decides to go solo on his next attempt at getting arrested. "On the sidewalk Soapy began to yell drunken gibberish at the top of his harsh voice. He danced, howled, raved and otherwise disturbed the welkin." But the cop who observes his performance decides that he is a college boy celebrating a football victory and leaves him alone. The reader may wonder how Soapy has managed to get himself arrested over the past years. Has he tried all these tricks before? Does he have other tricks up his sleeve?
As his last attempt at fulfilling his goal of getting arrested immediately, Soapy steals an umbrella right in front of the umbrella's owner—but it turns out that the owner had stolen the umbrella himself and was afraid to call the policeman who was standing right on the corner.
Not only is there variety in Soapy's crimes and attempted crimes, but there is a sharp contrast between the comical tone of the first part of the story and the ironic tone of the end. Irony is usually like something that would be funny if it were not painful or sad or even tragic. Soapy was funny at first, but he becomes pathetic when he remembers his better days and then gets carted off to jail for loitering and vagrancy.
Soapy will be released in a few months, but winter will come around again. If he has lost some of his former jauntiness and bravado, he might end up having to spend next winter out of doors, in which case he could be found frozen to death on his park bench in Madison Square.