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Paul V. Coates -- Confidential File, June 19, 1959

June 19, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Confidential File

A Quiet Man Made Noisy Headlines

Paul CoatesHerbert Greenwood, the quiet man, made loud headlines yesterday.

He announced his resignation from the Los Angeles Police Commission, and in the same breath, accused this city's police department and its chief, William Parker, of some very unbecoming attitudes and behavior.

It was a big story.

But a story with equal impact is the one behind why Greenwood did it.

It was as out of character for him to sound off as it would be for George Jessel to turn down an offer to serve as toastmaster.

For a lot of years, Greenwood's been connected in one way or another with public service.

No matter what the assignment, he did it the best way he knew how: by working hard with an undramatic diligence and an unsensational dedication.

He disliked public controversy and shunned publicity. He almost made a career of staying in the background, of being an uncontroversial figure.

He did it, plus the jobs he undertook to do, with high record of success.

This, undoubtedly, was an important factor in Mayor Poulson's choice of Greenwood as a police commissioner six years ago.

Greenwood, being a Negro, would give the board "balance." And he had the kind of personality to smooth over, rather than fire up, any problems between the Negro community and the police.

This, I'm told, he accomplished very well for quite a while. He considered it strictly a secondary duty -- his main job being to represent all of the people of Los Angeles.

Eventually, however, the Negro press began playing up incidents of alleged police brutality and prejudice. They screamed for action.

And when no action came, one of the papers in particular aimed its guns at Greenwood. In vicious attacks, he was called practically every name in the book.

Badly neglecting his private law practice, the commissioner set out to investigate the charges against the police.

But here, he ran into one problem after another. He wasn't satisfied himself with the way the police were investigating the allegations. Some of the police reports, he felt, were deliberately slanted to protect the involved officers.

Sometimes, he said, he was just plain refused access to certain information. And other times, he had reason to believe, files were "thinned out" before he got them.

There was a situation a few months ago where colored office girls were being accosted regularly by Caucasian Don Juans. His own daughter was among the victims.

But when some Negro community leaders met with the police to request action, they were reportedly politely informed, "We're not going around rousting anybody."

Greenwood was conscientious in checking out many complaints against the police, not all of them involving Negroes. His conclusion was that it's just impossible to expect a police officer to do an unbiased job investigating another police officer.

Apparently, Greenwood worked his way into the position of being the police commission "rebel" -- the man who wasn't willing to back Chief Parker on every issue solely because Parker was chief.

He wanted answers, explanations -- but he didn't get them.

Herbert Greenwood Spoke

So he decided to get out.

He could go gracefully, he knew. Resign without a reason.

That way, he would save embarrassment for himself, his friends, his family. He could keep his reputation as the quiet man.

But instead, Herbert Greenwood spoke.

Already under attack in his own community for "doing nothing," he added to his woes by firing the indignation of the police department for "doing something."

Herbert Greenwood, today is a disenchanted man.