Continuing our Romeo and Juliet comparisons, we come at last to the prince of Verona, who, let's face it, is the voice of authority and therefore the Man. In 1950s New York, the Man is represented by the cops: in this case, Lt. Schrank and his rotund accomplice Officer Krupke.
We don't see a whole lot of them, despite a whole song being sung about one of them, but we can pick up their vibes pretty quickly. They don't like the Sharks or the Jets, but frankly, they can't be bothered to really straighten the punks out. They're tired of trying, it seems, and while they show up to roust the gangs from time to time, their heart really isn't in actually doing something that will solve the problem.
Instead, they provide a hot plate of Hassle for Jets and Sharks alike. They show up, roust them, bust their chops a little and let them get back to whatever it is they're doing. The question becomes why? Why do these guys spend so much time giving these guys grief without actually doing anything? Why not just leave them to kill each other?
There's a lot of answers, and again, with "Gee, Officer Krupke," you can hear how pointless they all are. The song has the Jets comically describing how they've bounced around from one court and social program to another. None of those institutions work and all of them just want to wash their hands of these no-good street punks and send them off to the next waiting professional: psychiatrist, social worker, or judge.
SNOWBOY: The trouble is he's lazy.
JOYBOY: The trouble is he drinks!
BABY JOHN: The trouble is he's crazy!
A-RAB: The trouble is he stinks!
MOUTHPIECE: The trouble is he's growing.
ACTION: The trouble is he's grown!
ALL: Krupke, we got troubles of our own!
Honestly, this song is just about the best description of the failure of the juvenile justice system we've ever heard.
Schrank and Krupke are both the representatives of this system, which brutalizes these kids to no noticeable effects. The kids know this, which means they're not inclined to give either of these certified authorities a shred of respect or the time of day.
Schrank and Krupke, for their part, seem to understand that there's only so much they can do, either to help these kids or stop whatever they want to do. But they're still frustrated at them, which spills over into flat-out rage more than once.
LT. SCHRANK: I said nice, get it? Because if you don't, and I catch any of you doing any more brawlin' in my territory, I'm gonna personally beat the living crud out of each and every one of you and see that you go to the can and rot there. Say goodbye to the nice boys, Krupke.
That sure keeps things status quo: unchanging, frustrating and ultimately destructive.
It goes deeper than that. Schrank and Krupke push the gangs around in part to keep them in line, but mostly to remind them how little actual power they actually have. They're little fish in the big, bad world, and Schrank wants to make sure they understand that. He doesn't exactly give it to them easy either:
LT. SCHRANK: Sure it's a free country and I ain't got the right. But I got a badge. What have you got?
In one line, the Man reminds them that he can crush them all like tiny little bugs anytime he wants. He doesn't do it because they're honestly not worth the trouble. It's an awful thing to say, but it's also true, and it reminds us why the Jets and the Sharks are both pretty angry about life in general.
The cops don't have much love for the Jets or the Sharks, but they've got special scorn for the Puerto Rican gang.
LT. SCHRANK: Good deal all around, huh, Bernardo? I get a promotion and you Puerto Ricans get what you've been itchin' for. Use of the playground, use of the gym…the streets, the candy store. So what if they do turn this whole town into a stinkin' pigsty?
What a sweetheart. To his credit, though, he's an equal opportunity hater. The following is directed at the Jets:
LT. SCHRANK: You and the tinhorn immigrant scum you come from! How's your old man's DTs., A-rab? How's the action on your mother's side of the street, Action?
The only shred of humanity we see in Schrank is his look of despair when he comes across the scene at the playground, with Tony lying dead and Maria crushed by grief. Clearly, the hate is destroying everybody around here.