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Panel opposes 'Parker' as name of new LAPD headquarters

April 21, 2009 | 12:18 pm

The panel of civilians that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department voted unanimously this morning to oppose a movement in the City Council to name the department’s new headquarters after a controversial former police chief.

The five-member Los Angeles Police Commission authorized its president, Anthony Pacheco, to send a letter to the council voicing its opposition to christening the estimated $437-million building after William Parker, a legend in modern policing whose legacy is clouded by the negative influence many say he had on race relations in the city.

Parker served as chief of the LAPD for 16 years starting in 1950, and his name adorns the current headquarters. He is widely credited with cleaning up what was then a poorly run organization rife with corruption and turning it into a professional agency modeled after a military operation.

Parker, however, also purposefully turned the LAPD into a force that kept itself separate and isolated from the communities it served. The strategy, mixed with the racist attitudes held by many in the department's rank and file at the time, led to a siege mentality in minority neighborhoods, where Angelenos largely saw the police as a violent, occupying group.

Tensions simmered through incidents in the 1950s and early 1960s before erupting in the 1965 Watts riots in which 34 people died. Parker himself made several insensitive, racist remarks about the city’s Latino and black residents.

Councilman Bernard Parks, who is black and is a former LAPD chief, introduced a motion calling for the new building to adopt Parker’s name. Parks argued that it would be unfair to Parker and his family to abandon the chief’s name and also downplayed the criticisms of Parker.

His proposal, which is scheduled to be discussed by the council on Wednesday, angered many civil rights and religious leaders and rekindled a heated public debate over Parker’s legacy. Also at the commission’s meeting, several members of the Community Action Network, an activist group, criticized the department for what they said was the poor handling of an ongoing investigation into the recent killing of a homeless man in downtown Skid Row area.

-- Joel Rubin