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The film was spoofed in MAD Magazine in 1973 as "The New Comedians."
Three rookie cops, Roy Fehler, Gus Plebesly and Sergio Duran, report for duty with the Los Angeles police department. Roy is married with a daughter and intends to eventually become a law student. Gus is a father of three. Serge is a native of East L.A. who never expected to end up patrolling its streets.
Each is assigned a veteran partner. Roy's is the greatly experienced Andy Kilvinski, who has been on the force for nearly a quarter-century and has his own unique style of law enforcement. For example, he will have hookers driven around for hours in a paddy wagon, simply to keep them off the streets for a night.
Gus rides with Whitey Duncan. As they answer a burglary call at a market, Gus opens fire on a suspicious figure in the alley, only to discover to his horror that it is the owner of the store.
Roy begins to frustrate his wife Dorothy by becoming obsessed with police work, neglecting his family and dropping out of law school. He likes the life on the street, but during a convenience store holdup, Roy asks a parked couple to move their car and is unexpectedly shot with a shotgun.
Gus and Serge discuss their fear of being shot. Serge temporarily partners with Andy, and together they handle a volatile situation with a slum landlord. Roy gradually recovers and quickly encounters a shootout, but doesn't flinch.
As the rookies mark a year on the job, Andy reaches his 25th anniversary and mandatory retirement. He discusses the difficulties of police work at a farewell party with the younger men.
Roy is assigned to the vice squad, where the job is anything but glamorous. Dorothy has had enough. She leaves him and takes their daughter.
The young cops are delighted to get a visit from Andy, who has retired to Florida but misses police work, regretting never having spent more time on a personal life. After speaking with Roy one last time on the phone, Andy picks up a gun and kills himself.
Depression gets the better of Roy, who begins to drink on the job. He answers a burglary call and the victim turns out to be Lorrie, a nurse who helped him after he got shot. Later on patrol, a prostitute speeds off with Roy hanging from the car. He barely avoids serious injury and Lorrie helps patch him up, but he draws a three-week suspension for being drunk.
Roy begins seeing Lorrie socially and comes to his senses, appreciating the need for personal relationships and remembering what led Andy to end his life. He goes on a routine patrol with both Gus and Serge and answers a domestic disturbance report. A man appears out of nowhere, and before Serge can disarm him, Roy is shot. He dies in Gus's arms.