September 05, 2005 by Fred Godlash ART &LIVING MAGAZINE

Bernard Parks Los Angeles ReviewFrom Art and Living Magazine 2005

Fred -You chose to serve the community?
Bernard Parks-The parochial school that I went to, one of the main themes in my education was in public service. As I went through school, in addition of getting what I think is a pretty good education, it was foremost in your day-to-day life to help others. I would collect money for the missions or doing what they called back then a paper drive ( Paper recycling) or helping seniors who were involved with the church. Those were the types of fundamental issues that were part of my education. It was not a question if you became famous, successful or wealthy but more so your true legacy was what you did and how you helped others.
Fred-And from there you decided to serve the community as a police officer?
Bernard Parks-That is correct.
Fred-How did you get started?
Bernard Parks- I started in the police department in February 1965. Bill Parker was the chief. In ‘65 police had no more than 3-400 black officers and although I think it’s somewhat humorous most people when they think about civil rights issue and gains for the nation they think about going down south where there were signs and segregation. They forget in LA although they didn’t have the signs that say need not apply, there were a number of symbols that clearly were not inviting to minorities and one of them was LAPD. I came on just 4 years after they actually began to integrate their department. Not that they were just bringing blacks into the dept. but that they actually letting black and white officers work together. Wasn’t until ’61 that you could see a blk and wht officer in the same patrol car. And remember that ’61 was the year Tom Bradley who served 20 years and reached the rank of Lieutenant he left the dept because he was told no black would ever become Capt. of the police. During the 50s and 40s if you were a black officer and your partner was out sick they sent you home because there was no one for you to work with. And black officers were restricted to certain divisions.

Watts Riots

Bernard Parks-When I came on in Feb ’65 it was just 6 months before the riot and what you found is this is something I think the city still hasn’t learned but they think the watts riot and they go back to an incident where  Marquet Fry was stopped by the CHP. People use that as a symbolism of what caused the Watts Riot. What caused the Watts Riot was not that stop, it was the years of people being abused, mistreated, disrespected and in many instances having no vehicle to find some either clarity or response for their grievances. So years and years of these kinds of instances then you have a circumstance that ignites  and people forget that that instant may be viewed as the flashpoint. But the real flashpoint of what makes people come out their homes and burn up their neighborhood is their despair and hopelessness. There were no retailers to think of.  The stores that suffered through the riots were the same ones that the community complained about for  years of poor product, bad service, and high prices. So if you lived in that arena you would have a different perspective.  When people feel hopeless, the balloon is going to burst somewhere.

Rebuttal Gates Fault or no fault?

Bernard Parks-I don’t think you can put it on any one person but I do believe there was an attitude within the dept that didn’t pick up the signs this issue of the communities repeating over and over they feel disrespected that they are mistreated and I think what happened that was different in from ’65 to ’92 was that the Rodney King tape was symbolic of a number of people that said that it’s now been verified what we’ve been talking about for years. So it’s no longer speculation, it’s no longer hey it’s your word against mine. When the trial came back with a not guilty plea for the officers who beat Rodney King, the balloon had to burst. After the not guilty verdict of the officers the public cried out because if the videotape is not enough when will it ever be enough. Where the misunderstanding takes place is when you watch the videotape you have to make a judgment to where they are crossing the line of law enforcement into abuse. It is a hard case, a difficult prosecution, unless you have a police officer saying that he is going to brutalize someone. Was it misconduct at stroke # 5,#8,#15. This has been a disconnect for the community for years because there are different views for what is misconduct. The community and the police both want justice but have different views on what that means. Also the mayor of the city at the time went on television immediately after and shows his disappointment in the verdict. Many people viewed that as a license to go out and express your dismay. I was in front of Parker center the night of the trial and we had maybe 600 to 700 people spontaneously show up. People were saying later that we should have dispersed those people what they failed to realize is that the group of officers in front of that building were the only ones available. Unlike the Watts riots, this was spread out throughout Los Angeles. It took 12 hours bringing people in on overtime in order to get enough police to sustain the presence in the community. The media went out in the first 24 hours and showed people looting with no police officers to stop them. That was a signal that told people where you can go and loot. There are a couple of misnomers. One is that the police made no arrests in the riot but the police made over 8 to 9 thousand arrests in the first 3 days. Another misnomer was that it was a black riot. When you look at the ethnic breakdown of those who were arrested it was very multicultural.

If you were in Gates shoes would you decide different decisions

Bernard Parks-Well at the point when this had flared… the ingredients for it were already too late. What I did as chief of police is to understand the history of where this violence came from. I understood clearly that, in order to deal with good will in the community, not if but when one of these circumstances happens you need to give them an avenue to complain. I would reflect how to deal with grievances and how to hold officers accountable. So what I chose to do within 6 months of becoming chief was to revamp the disciplinary system. I wanted to send a clear message that no longer were we going to allow officers to negotiate with a citizen if a complaint should be taken. The rule I set was to take the complaint regardless of  how absurd it may sound and let the investigators determine the validity of the complaint. This gives people a chance to air their grievances. The fallacy of the department system in years past basically said if you make a complaint me as a supervisor would assess what you told me and if I determine it’s misconduct then I make a compliant. Well, that’s too much discretion. Because if you think through it the real issue is that the investigation determines whether it’s misconduct because we know often you may come in and say “officer A did 1, 2 and 3” we look into it and find out if 1,2, and 3 were not accurate assessments but 4,5, and  6 were. And so to expect the community person to be able to formulate every allegation to where you can decide whether it’s misconduct or not is inappropriate on intake. The only way you do that is on taking the investigation. What we found in the first year of changing the process complaints have hovered around 1800-2000 a year for decades. When we changed it in January of 1998 complaints went over 5000 and it’s never gone below. And so you find this basically resource out there that people were bottling up those images that so when you look at the difference we had a couple of incidents that could have gone sideways. We had the Rampart incident. And all of the Rampart incident and all of the press that was giving it and all the things that came out. The only community outrage we had was a rally out in front of Rampart Station where the public commended the police officers. We had the ?Margaret Mitchell case where the homeless lady was shot. Even with all the rhetoric about that in the press we did not have one person show up and talk about they were going to take action in their own hands. Because during that same period when we changed discipline system during my tenure we fired 140 police officers. We disciplined police officers more than they’ve ever been disciplined before. And the fact that I’m not the chief of police is indicative of the union being able to convince the mayor at that time (Hahn) that if we give you your support that you give us a new chief of police.  Because they didn’t want to be held accountable. Now, if you then see 3 years since I’ve been gone, I don’t think they’ve fired more than 10-12 police officers. Now the behavior hasn’t changed, the attitude about their behavior has changed. When the monitor from the Federal Government is telling us over the last three reports they’ve put in that the accountability within the police department has diminished to the point that we’re now concerned. And you go to community meetings such as the ?Pena incident 18 month old? and Central Americans are saying we don’t trust the police. They have no credibility, they’re mistreating us, they’re disrespectful, they’re arrogant. That tells you that we are headed back to those kinds of issues to where the Tony Mohammad incident has 200 people show up angry how a minister can be beat up by the police while he’s putting on a vigil for two homicides in the community. These are the ingredients that will churn if good will is not established in the community.


Bernard Parks-There’s no doubt. I think when you find the monitor from the federal government saying accountability has diminished to the point of concern, when you have officers being viewed by a variety of communities as arrogant, as being disrespectful, these are the same words that were used in ’92 and in ’65 and we would hope we learned from that. But what we also find a new ingredient today that drives a bigger wedge is 85%-90% of the police officers do not live in the city, so there is no relationship with the community that pays their salary. They’re commuters that come in and work. Then, the last administration creates the 3 day work week which now brings not only the percentage of officers that live out of the city, but they now only come to work 100 days out of the year. So now what relationship does that provide for a community that says I don’t want you to send me some community relations officer in a suit to tell me how good LAPD is, I’ll judge how good LAPD is by the person that shows up and handles my call. There’s no way you can have a relationship with the community if you don’t live in it, and you only come to it 100 days a year. So that chasm between the police and the community is growing, and then you throw on top of it what’s viewed as a lack of accountability and then you throw on top of it what is viewed as the arrogance and disrespect and then you throw on top of it the periodic inappropriate statements by the chief of police on very serious incidence, you’ve got quite a brew going on.


Bernard Parks-You know there’re several things. One thing I think most everything for the future of the city depends on how well our kids are educated. So that is a primary issue dealing with the schools that are in my district, whether I’m bringing in new supplies for them for reading books, or finding ways to fund issues and activities that support different events. These are all the kinds of things that we’re moving on. Second issue is if you educate the workforce is to have economic development jobs which they can go into. That’s the primary issue we forward on, trying to bring in economic development whether it’s malls or squares or shopping centers, whether looking at Vermont/Manchester that has been on the board for 15 years and just recently brought in a 100 million dollar office building there. That’s where educated people can move into these kinds of operations. And housing: we’re not just where the concentration was the last 4 years or really last 15 years that the only housing in this district has been affordable in senior. We’ve made a concerted effort to bring market rate work force where people with real jobs can come in and buy a house in an area where they grew up in. And so we looked at from those kinds of issues. And also we have listened to the public. An issue to them is transportation and so we are working very hard to make the expo line move forward.

What is the Expo Line?
Bernard Parks-Expo line is the rail system that will come out of union station and go down south, either on Hill or Flower Street, turn on Exposition and eventual take light rail down to Santa Monica. It will be the first rail system that will go through the most traffic congested part of the city and connect community people, who are generally viewed to be lower income, and others to get on the rail system and connect through Union Station to go to the Red Line to the Valley and get on the Orange line, or go to the Metro link. All this by 2009 will give people a level footing on being part of a transportation system that will get them where they want to go. The other issue on transportation deals with buses. Although buses are good and get people where they want to go and we use them a great deal in our community, the rail system creates economic opportunities. If you look where the rail systems are developed, many of the stops become economic mix use housing, and commercial ventures. If you are living in a transit corridor, you should be able to but housing and maybe even go to work without using your car. We are trying to get people out of their cars. So the best place to put the density of folks who now live in garages or want to move into the city is to build newer communities built around the transit corridor rather than going into single family neighborhoods and tearing down those neighborhoods to make them multifamily. So that’s why a rail system promotes a variety of solutions. Better transportation but significant economic development opportunities that go beyond just building it but actually creating neighborhoods around the station to where you now are providing services that were not there before.

Model all freeways after 105?
Bernard Parks-That has been discussed but I don’t know why projects like the Gold line and the Spur? And now Expo has moved up in the priorities. One issue is if you go down the freeway lane you’re not adding to the transportation plan, you’re just replicating the existing plan and so what people are saying is that what is wrong with the current plan is I can not get out of my car because I don’t know if they can get me where I’m going. And if I don’t know if they can get me there I am not going to leave my car. I am not going to leave my house and take bus A to get stranded at mid-point. Right now there are holes in the system. People say that it doesn’t appear to be of the state of art that I can leave my house and comfortably and quickly find my way to get on the system.  So in addition, the rails tie you into the bus system.
Bernard Parks-That is another issue. Why do you have the green line stop in the middle of an intersection? But I think it’s going to take some time. You are going to have to create four issues for the community to buy into rail transportation. It has to be clean, on time, safe, and can’t be cost prohibitive. The final analysis is it absolutely has to get you to where you need to go. Those are the dynamics that causes people to say “instead of all five of us leaving the house in separate cars, let’s leave the cars and take public transportation. There should be easy access to park the car, get on the Expo line, get through down town, get down to the Gold line to Pasadena. I can come back on the Gold line and take the Red line to go to North Hollywood or Universal Studios. That is what’s people to say, “ I will see how I can get there.” Sometimes there are people that will ride the Blue line from Long Beach to Downtown but will not take the connecting bus. A lot of people will take the rail but not a bus. So these solutions to rail transportation will give people options but if you can’t lay out a system that tells people, “This is how you get around, and it’s dependable and will not cost you an arm and a leg.” The difference between if you drive a car everyday and take the rail can be as significant as $20 dollars a day you can save. People in Los Angeles at 16 years old want to drive a car but you meet people from New York who are 25 years old who don’t know how to drive because they never had to because they can walk out their house, walk a block and get on there way. So that is the difference between the dynamics of this very large city of 470 sq miles and only 73 miles of rail system.
Plan with Villagrosa is to commute on the rail not give up your car?
Yes, the figure is something like 12 billion dollars a year productivity is lost every year because you are sitting in traffic. If you are sitting in a meeting and you ask, “How many people have been affected by crime?” You may find 8 or 10 percent but if ask, “How many people have been affected by traffic?” Every one of them. So transportation is a big issue.

Death of grandaughter

Bernard Parks-I think its something you never expect to occur. You never even expect to bury your children much less your grandchildren. And I think what it reinstilled in me was that these whole issues of what impacts our community that we’re on the right track. We have to solve these problems. You can’t wait until a tragic incident, all have a candlelight vigil and say we’re through. The issue is we have to begin to deal with what prompts kids to kill each other. What are the fundamental issues in communities that cause such hopelessness and despair to where individuals view that it makes no difference whether I live or die. And one thing that kind of surprised me was people actually articulated as though my family were living in some kind of safety cocoon and wouldn’t be subject to day to day mules of the city. We have people saying “you’re the chief of police and your granddaughter was killed”. Yes, she’s on the same streets as your kids and have the same dilemmas as your kids and same temptations as your kids. So it’s not like they live in a stone house and they’re not affected by what’s going on in society right so these are the kinds of things that are interesting as it unfolded. It’s very tragic. Families will never recover from it. There’s a lot of times when people think they rush in they’re there, the funeral is over and they go away. But the family deals with every year there’s no birthdays there’s no holidays there’s no ability to see granddaughter get married fulfill the things she wanted to do. For the family they have to move on. It can’t consume you. Support groups are very important and they do make a difference. Death gives a perspective of how many people are impacted by violence because you’re finding not only mothers losing children and grandchildren but you also find brothers and sisters and parents. So the violence issue is real and there’s no real solution because even if you find the person and they give you the best explanation of why they did it it’s no acceptable because there’s no reason to take a life. There’s nothing that can be that harmful that would cause you to pull a gun and shoot somebody indiscriminately. People say that they want to find the person and they want to ask the person why they did it. Well that is a noble cause except when they answer you your going to have an empty feeling because they can’t express to you any rational reason. I tell people in our community, violence in our community is committed by people who live in the community. So homicide in a black community or the 8th district. You have two deaths, one is the victim, and the other, literally is the one you catch because his life and his families life are in the same boat. He goes away to prison and the family looses access to a human being that they had high hopes for. The victim’s family is tortured because they lost a life. There are no winners. People say that you can get over but that is not true, you never get over it. Those family issues will always be there because of the reminders, birthdays, holidays, ect.
Bernard Parks-Yes it does. I still have people come up to me and say I am sorry about the death of your granddaughter. It impacts them as if it was one of their own children. They see someone who is miserable who lives in the same community that they feel attached to.
Bernard Parks-What basically happened is that we had two homicides within a 24 hour period. One young man was shot in the head and what prompted all the anxiety was that the fire department pronounced him dead on the scene. Community people saw the victim move underneath the sheet and they thought he was still alive, not understanding that when you die there is involuntary movement from your nervous system. So there was discontent there when the fire department had to rush back to confirm he was dead it took an ambulance to calm down the crowd. This was now starting rumors of the mistreatment of the victim. Immediately after that shooting another person dies in that immediate neighborhood.  Various groups like parents against gun violence, family members who have been victims of crime, etc, take a personal role in this situation. They decide to have a vigil in that location seeking peace to stop the violence. Parents and relatives of murdered children want to talk about the harm it creates, while setting this up they’re on a residential street called 10 ave. The police were concerned about the vigils because they closed one of the lanes in the road. In an attempt to open one of the lanes up, the police forced a Muslim minister to move his vehicle. They used mace and the minister’s people retaliated. You have to realize that Muslims use bodyguards and that puts a better perspective on the situation. The police used bad judgment because they felt that keeping that lane open was more important than letting the community vent their anger. Instead of arresting 500 people, it is better to keep the vigil contained and try to keep order.