Judy Hopps had pinned the letter from the police academy above her bed in her shoe box of an apartment so that it was the first thing that she saw every morning and the last thing she saw every night. She had it memorized, of course, but more than just the few lines that it ran she could picture every detail of it: the little stray ink marks across the page, the way that the second "e" in meet was slightly lower than the first, and the way the "a" in admission had its center completely filled in. The letter was never far away from her thoughts; every time she was running and felt as though she could not go another lap, she would remember the letter and it would give her a second wind. Every time she was studying books of law late at night after everyone else in the drafty old apartment building had gone to sleep and thought that her eyes could not take in another word, she would remember the letter and force herself to go on.
Her entire life other mammals had told her that she could never become a police officer, that no bunny had ever been one before and that no bunny ever would. She had ignored them all, devoting herself entirely to her dream. Even her parents didn't understand her drive, and while being cautiously supportive they had joined the other mammals in Bunnyburrows warning her that she might not even be accepted to the police academy. Her parents had tried to convince her, if not to give up her dream, then to at least plan for what happened if she did fail. To Judy, however, failure had never been an option, and she had told them so.
She could vividly remember the day that the letter had arrived. It had been a fine summer day in the country, the planting over and the crops already starting to thrive under the June sun. It had been dazzlingly clear, and Judy had seen the dust cloud in the distance that accompanied the mail carrier as he made his route along the rutted dirt road that wound its way through Bunnyburrows long before she could hear the sound of his hooves or make out the little cart that he pulled. The letter hadn't been the only piece of mail that day; it had been accompanied by a Steers Roebuck catalog that had an image of a smiling deer doe pulling a pitcher of lemonade out of a little gleaming white refrigerator to serve her appreciative-looking family. Normally, the arrival of the Steers catalog would mean a fight between her younger siblings over who got to read it first that ended only when the catalog had been ripped apart into its different sections, but the letter from the police academy completely overshadowed the catalog, which had sat forgotten on the rough wooden table closest to the front door.
Other than the postmark with the return address of the police academy the letter was entirely unremarkable, just a plain envelope a little weathered by its journey through the postal system. One of Judy's youngest sisters had run off from her game of jacks to the fields, shrieking for everyone on the farm to hear that what she had called the police letter had arrived. Bunnies had poured into the kitchen, filling the cool underground room with their bodies and their voices, some demanding that she open the letter immediately and others calling for her to wait until everyone was present. Her mother and father had been two of the last to arrive, her father puffing and panting, the knees of his overalls stained with dirt from the weeding he had been in the middle of. Her mother's arms, Judy recalled, had been wet and covered with suds, bringing the harsh scent of soap flakes into the kitchen with her.
Judy had opened the envelope with trembling paws and when she managed to make her eyes focus on the words of the letter, she saw that all of those other mammals had been right. It was a rejection, and she would never forget the way her stomach had sank at reading the words:
We regret to inform you that you do not meet the standards for admission to the Zootopia Police Department Training Academy at this time. You are welcome to review the standards and re-apply next year. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
Captain Joseph S. Ruminante
Her parents and some of her siblings had crowded closer around her as she opened it, and while she was taller than any of them it must have been entirely obvious what the letter said from the way that her ears had drooped and her face had fallen. "Jude..." her father had said hesitantly, one paw awkwardly outstretched for her shoulder but not making contact.
It was clear that he didn't know what to say, and neither did she. The kitchen had gone entirely silent, her audience looking around at each other wide-eyed. Judy had devoted her entire life to her dream, and there it was, in plain black and white, that she had been denied. "Well," she had said, plastering a smile on her face that felt phony as a three dollar bill, "I guess I'll be applying again next year."
She couldn't recall if anyone had tried to offer her words of comfort as she left the kitchen; all she remembered was the awful feeling of having failed that consumed her as she made her way to her bedroom and shut the door.
As Judy sat at her desk in her tiny bedroom, one of many that her father and grandfather had dug out of the very earth of Bunnyburrows itself, she had stared at the letter numbly. Her eyes had traced the words over and over again in the light that came through the small window at the top of one wall as though she could will them to change. It was obviously a form letter, since it didn't even include her name; they hadn't specified what standard she had failed to meet. Judy knew, however, that it was almost certainly not a standard that was written anywhere, just that whoever was in charge of admissions was just like every other mammal and didn't think that a bunny could be a police officer. As she sat looking at the letter she had heard, every now and then, the sound of footsteps going past her door and the muffled murmur of whispers too low to make out. Doubtlessly her family had been trying to determine what to do, if she should be left alone or not. She had never allowed herself to dwell on what would happen if the police academy had rejected her, but it had surprised even her that she wasn't sad. Even as she had read over the hateful words of the blandly written letter, which acted as though her scholastic achievements somehow fell short, her eyes were entirely dry. She had scowled down at the letter. She had been angry, angrier than she could ever remember feeling in her life, and her heart had burned with a passion at the injustice. If the academy thought that she wasn't good enough, she would show them that she was twice the mammal of any of the applicants that they had accepted. She would make them see that they had made a mistake and leave them no choice but to accept her when the applications opened again in '28. It had felt good, to be righteously angry, and she had suddenly seen the path before her that would lead her to her goal of becoming a police officer. She had picked up the letter and delicately folded it, putting it back in its envelope before tucking it away in one of her pockets. She had taken a deep breath and stood up, and when she had opened the door to her bedroom she had been unsurprised to see her parents waiting in the narrow and twisting hallway that ran through the home. They had been alone, and she had supposed that they had probably chased her siblings off.
"What are you going to do now, dear?" her mother had asked delicately once Judy was in the hallway with them.
It was a fair question. A year was a long time, and while Judy had known that her family would be happy to have her stay on the farm and work the fields with them, she had not been ready to give up on her dream. If the police academy had rejected her immediately after graduating college, she hadn't thought that they would be any more likely to accept her the following year if the only change was that she had spent a year farming. "I'll apply to the Bureau of Prohibition," she had said, trying to sound firmly decisive.
Her father, and to a lesser extent her mother, had reacted as though she had announced her plans to jump into the old quarry. "The Bureau of Prohibition?" her father had asked, "Are... Are you serious? That's awful dangerous you know. All those gangs! And they're predators too! There's that terrible lion and—"
A small, petty part of Judy had wondered if his concern was motivated more by his weekly bridge games, where she was fairly sure that her father and his friends drank something a fair amount stronger than water, than it was from concern for her own well-being. That one of the mammals her father played bridge with had, about four or five years ago, abruptly switched from growing radishes, lettuce, and peas to corn and soon after had a brand new tractor was one of those things that everyone in Bunnyburrows knew but no one discussed. As quickly as the thought had come, though, she had squashed it. It had been uncharitable and her father deserved better; he didn't understand her dream, and he probably never would, but she knew that he was motivated by love even if she thought his concern was entirely misplaced. "Mr. Big was a shrew," she pointed out, cutting him off, "It's not all predators."
Even in Bunnyburrows, the conviction of the notorious mob boss and bootlegger had been a constant topic of discussion when it had happened back in '25. All of the papers from the city had carried the news, and even the Triburrows paper, which was little more than classified ads and local events, had included the latest updates. The farmers of Bunnyburrows had been split on the news; plenty of the more pious members of the community saw his conviction as the wages of his sins and the proper punishment for distributing alcohol, while others thought that bootlegging was a more or less victimless crime.
Even if bootlegging was a victimless crime, the shrew had been guilty of plenty of other crimes that weren't. Despite all of those crimes, which ran the gamut from extortion to conspiracy to commit murder, the only charge that had stuck was tax evasion. The little shrew had gotten careless and in his greed neglected to pay the taxes he owed for his legitimate businesses. Considering the way that the farmers grumbled about the taxes the revenuers collected from them, there was a fair amount of sympathy for the mob boss in the farming community, especially considering his well-documented philanthropy. So what he if he ran a little alcohol and skipped some of his taxes? In some mammals' minds, he more than made up for it with his generous donations to worthy causes like orphanages and soup kitchens. "Well, there's plenty of others," her father had protested.
"I'm not going to try and make a career out of it," Judy had said, "I'll just do it until applications for the police academy open again. It'll be good experience, and I'll be fine."
The Bureau of Prohibition was always hiring, and their standards were significantly lower than the police academy. Her mother and father had exchanged a glance after she spoke, one of those wordless moments of communication that only two mammals who had spent so much time together could have. Her father had sighed, and then broke into tears. "If that's what you want," he had sobbed hopelessly, pulling her into a hug, "Just be safe, Jude. Be safe."
Her mother had joined the embrace, and the three bunnies had stood for a long moment in the hallway. "We love you, Judy," her mother had murmured.
Judy had taken the news of her rejection from the police without a single tear, but the simple and raw power of her parents' love had brought a lump to her throat and her view of the hallway had become somewhat blurry. "I love you too," she had whispered back, her voice hoarse.
When Judy's alarm clock went off and she woke up to the sight of the letter above her bed, she actually smiled. Today will be different, she thought. It had been exactly a month to the day since she had started at the Bureau, and she would, at long last, get a real case. Her boss had promised it, that after a month's time she would be assigned a field case so long as her work in the interim was exemplary. Judy didn't think she had to worry about that despite how tedious the tasks that she had been assigned were. For the most part, she spent her time listening to wire recordings of phone taps, carefully transcribing the conversations. Even with her excellent hearing she had to strain at the words, which had a tendency to be faint and tinny, losing most of the cues that would let her know which mammal on the call was speaking. Otherwise, she spent her time cross-referencing reports, which, while equally tedious, actually helped her learn more about the major players in Zootopia's thriving bootlegging scene and didn't leave her with a headache at the end of the day. After a month of doing all of her work from the unimpressive Bureau office, she was desperate for something more than glorified secretarial work, and knowing that she would have that chance put an extra spring in her step as she went about her morning routine.
Old Mrs. Potter, Judy's teacher for the entire time she had spent in school in Bunnyburrows, had once tactfully assessed Judy as more than making up with enthusiasm for what she lacked in talent at singing. It had been true when she was six, and it was still true almost two decades later. As Judy got dressed in her sensible blouse and skirt (which, coming as it did to just below her knees was perfectly modest by the standards of the city but would have been rather daring by the standards of Bunnyburrows), a bit of song ran through her head, and she at first hummed it before breaking into song somewhat off-key.
"He made a change and said I would not do,
So now I'm going to make some changes, too.
Why, there's a change in the weather, there's a change in the sea,
So from now on there'll be a change in me.
She was interrupted by a furious banging on the paperboard-thin wall that separated her apartment from the one next to it. "Dry up, rabbit!" came the somewhat groggy voice of her neighbor, "Mammals are trying to sleep!"
"Sorry!" she said back, her ears curling and flushing in embarrassment.
She hadn't realized just how loudly she had been singing, and it was quite early in the morning. "Don't be sorry, be quiet!" shouted her neighbor's roommate.
"Now you're being rude!" the other replied.
"You started it!" the first one shouted back.
Judy had never quite been able to tell which of them was speaking when their voices carried through the wall, which was a problem that arose with an unfortunate frequency. She had heard one of her other neighbors refer to the pair as a matched set of confirmed bachelors, and she wondered sometimes why neither one of them moved out and saved everyone on the floor from their constant arguments. The building was cheap, it was true, but surely there had to be somewhere else one of them could move. Then again, considering her own finances, perhaps they couldn't. Judy tuned out the squabbling of the kudu and the oryx as she set to her breakfast of a slightly stale bagel, eaten at room temperature with a meager dollop of margarine as white as the fine plates her mother only brought out for Christmas and Easter. A toaster and a refrigerator would have been nice to have, but they simply weren't possible on her salary; she'd have to be grateful for the lone light bulb in her apartment and the fact that the communal showers had hot water that was more or less reliable. Judy finished her breakfast and then brushed her teeth while carefully checking her appearance in one of the few mirrors in the communal bathroom that was at the right height for her. Once she was satisfied that she was ready she made her way down the rickety staircase and left the building.
Nature, or what little of it was apparent in the city, seemed to be agreeing with her mood; the sun was still rising through a few puffy clouds and she could tell that the day would be pleasantly cool. Even the wind was blowing the right direction, moving across the lake rather than off of it, so that it didn't bring the horrible stench of the not-too-distant slaughterhouses where hundreds, maybe thousands, of chickens were butchered every day. The first time that the wind had been blowing the wrong way had been an unpleasant reminder of one of the reasons her apartment was so cheap, and she pushed down the memory of her revulsion. She couldn't smell it at the moment, and besides, predators had to eat too; if anything she should be thanking them for driving down the prices of apartments in the area. If nothing else, her apartment was only two stops by train away from the Zootopia office of the Bureau of Prohibition, and Judy joined the throngs of mammals making their way to the nearest station.
Judy always left herself plenty of time to get to work, and was typically one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave every night. Just like every other day she managed to squeeze onto the train, and even managed to get a seat. She sat and watched the city stream past the window, her mind already going forward to the office. Her work ethic had already won her the praise of the chief, and she hoped to demonstrate in the field that her talents weren't limited to the tasks at which she had previously been assigned. After all, a letter of recommendation from Dawn Bellwether, chief of the Zootopia office of the Bureau of Prohibition, would surely carry some weight with the police academy. All she had to do was earn it, and there was no doubt in her mind that she was up to the task.
Author's Notes: Continuing what I started with the first chapter, each chapter of this story will be titled with the name of a period appropriate song that's relevant either by its title or lyrics, although I have cheated a little with some of them in terms of the year that they were released. This chapter is named after the song "There'll Be Some Changes Made," which was a major hit for singer Ethel Waters in 1921, and is the song that Judy sings a snippet of before being interrupted. Give it a listen! I've completely fallen in love with the music of the 1920s myself in the course of my research for this story.
Steers Roebuck is a very mild pun on Sears, Roebuck, and Company, which ran a massive mail order business at the time that was essentially the equivalent of Amazon today; it was possible to buy just about anything, including houses, out of the catalog. Consumer refrigerators were available for sale in 1927, but were extremely expensive and most rural areas in the US didn't have electricity anyway. Still, considering the limited media available to most people in rural locations, Sears catalogs sometimes served as a form of escapism and it shouldn't be too surprising that a large family would fight over who got to look at them first.
The description of Judy's rejection letter is accurate to what a mimeographed letter would likely look like if it wasn't one of the first copies printed. Mimeographs were in common use by the 1920s, and the way they worked is pretty simple. A stencil is created by loading a specially prepared sheet (typically waxed paper or more expensive but more durable metal foil) into a typewriter and typing the message to be duplicated. The strikes of the typewriter against the stencil create holes in the stencil, and the stencil is then wrapped around an ink-filled drum. Blank pieces of paper are put between that ink-filled drum and a pressure roller, which forces ink through the holes in the stencil and creates a copy of the original. Of course, the stencil doesn't last forever, and as it degrades lines of the text may start sagging and letters that contain a closed loop on the stencil break so that the loop is entirely filled with ink when it's printed.
From the movie, I got the impression that the Mammal Inclusion Initiative is something relatively recent, and I don't think Judy would have been admitted to the police academy without it. In the US, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned employers from discriminating against applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. In 1927, however, employers were perfectly free to discriminate however they wished, so I think it makes sense that in that time period she would have been rejected out of hand for being a bunny.
The Bureau of Prohibition was pretty sharply criticized by the public for what was perceived as its lax standards in hiring agents, and the tendency of those agents to be blatantly corrupt, excessively violent, or both. Judy's plan, as outlined in this chapter, to serve as a Prohibition agent for a time before reapplying to the police academy in the hopes of the experience proving she has what it takes is therefore pretty optimistic. The Bureau of Prohibition itself started in 1920 as the Prohibition Unit under the Bureau of Internal Revenue, now the Internal Revenue Service. In April of 1927, a few months before this story starts, the Prohibition Unit was renamed the Bureau of Prohibition and made a part of the Department of the Treasury. Major cities would have their own bureau offices as described in this chapter.
"Dry up" is 1920s slang for "shut up," although unlike some other 1920s slang that one's fairly obvious from context. "Confirmed bachelor" is a phrase that has historically been used for a man who never married, sometimes with the implication being that the reason for it is that the man in question is gay.
Judy's financial woes are pretty true to what a real Prohibition Agent would have encountered; they were not paid very well, which significantly contributed to the tendency of some agents to extort speakeasies or accept bribes to look the other way. Her breakfast of a bagel and margarine would probably be about all she could afford. Margarine was significantly cheaper than butter in the 1920s, but farmers and their lobbies fought bitterly against what they correctly viewed as a competitor. For a brief period of time in the late 19th century, some states actually required that margarine be colored pink, which the dairy industry lobbyists thought would make it appear unappetizing. That was struck down in court in 1898, but laws against coloring margarine yellow to make it look like butter stayed on the books significantly longer; it wasn't until 1967 that the last state (Wisconsin, not surprising considering their dairy industry) ended their ban. The solution margarine manufacturers came up with in the interim was to include a yellow dye packet that consumers could mix in themselves to turn the naturally white margarine a buttery yellow. Since the coloring didn't affect the flavor at all, some people simply didn't bother to mix it in. Somewhat amusingly, though, butter manufacturers then and to this day add dyes to make it a more appealing shade of yellow, so it was a pretty clear bit of hypocrisy.
One of the other issues that the general public had with Prohibition Agents was their use of wiretapping of telephone lines to get information. The case of Olmstead v. United States, in 1928, upheld the authority of the government to wiretap private telephone lines without a warrant and use the information gathered that way, a decision that would stand until Katz v. United States, in 1967, after which wiretapping required a warrant. The modern debate over warrantless wiretapping and government surveillance is, therefore, not anything new; many of the arguments, on both sides, came up almost a hundred years ago.
In terms of the actual technology used in the 1920s, the term wiretap was entirely literal, using an electrical tap on the wires of a phone line. Conversations could be listened in on and transcribed in real time, or they could be recorded. There were three main recording technologies available: phonographic techniques, which recorded sound by using a stylus to create grooves in the recording medium; sound on film, which converted the audio signal to a light intensity signal and recorded that on film, where the process could be reversed for playback; and wire recording, which ran a metal wire across a magnetic head to the electrical signal of an audio input, creating a magnetic pattern that could be read for playback. All of these methods were entirely analog, and they all had their advantages and drawbacks. Phonographic recordings had good sound quality, but were limited by the size of the disc or cylinder that the sound was recorded onto, and could typically only be a few minutes long. Sound on film had decent sound quality (it quickly became the dominant method for motion pictures with sound, superseding the cumbersome synchronization of film with a phonographic disc), but the film itself was expensive. Wire recordings, at least in the 1920s, didn't have very good sound quality and relied on expensive recording and playback devices, but the storage medium of metal wire was extremely cheap and could easily record hours of content. Wire recordings are therefore what I picked as the technology used; it's a reasonable choice as despite the high upfront cost the cost of actually making a recording is much lower than the others. Still, transcribing hours of scratchy audio would be a terrible job that I think most people would very quickly get fed up with.
In the 1920s, Chicago was the location of a large number of slaughterhouses; the title "Hog butcher to the world" that Carl Sandburg gave it in his 1914 poem "Chicago" was very well earned. Naturally, in this universe slaughterhouses would not be killing pigs and cows, but even with only 10% of the population being predators I think that there would still be sufficient demand for chicken or other poultry to mean that there would be a lot of slaughterhouses. Indeed, when you consider that in the real world large predators like tigers can eat up to 25 pounds (about 11 kilograms) of flesh per day, there would probably be a massive demand for it.