LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Los Angeles Councilman Bernard Parks this week is marking 50 years of public service, 38 of which were with the LAPD.
Parks, 71, recently spoke with CBS2’s Pat Harvey and reflected on his career, which for him began at 21.
It was then Parks left his job on the assembly line of a GM factory Feb. 1, 1965, to become a police officer.
Six months later came the Watts riots with six days of unrest.
“It was just unimaginable, although it was the brunt of L.A. city and L.A. police being a part of it. It really started somewhat innocuously with the Highway Patrol arrest of a drunk driver,” he said.
As Harvey reports, it was an explosive time as the civil-rights march of Selma had just taken place five months before, and there were growing calls for change.
“There were many scuffles in roll-calls where people in sensitive statements like, ‘Why are we worried about Watts? Let it burn. Who lives there,’ ” Parks recalls. “Black officer raises his hand and says, ‘My mother. My father. My relatives. That’s who lives there.’ ”
Parks served with the LAPD during the Watts riots and the L.A. riots in 1992.
“Watts was spontaneous. Holiday incident explodes. In ’92, it was citywide. All of the programs that were supposed to helpful. They’re the same, identical issues after the ’92 riot and the same issues you hear in Ferguson today. Poverty. You’re dealing with crime. A lack of education,” he said.
In 1992, Parks was deputy chief and was passed over for Willie Williams from the Philadelphia Police Department.
But in 1997, Parks was appointed police chief of the LAPD by then-mayor Richard Riordan.
As chief, he experienced some unprecedented accolades and some unusual ones, even being named one of People Magazine’s 50 most beautiful people.
“We thought it was a joke. All of a sudden, a young lady, one of the producers or something called and she said, ‘Mr. Parks, do you know what we just offered you?’ I said ‘No.’ She said, ‘There are people that would give their right arm to be in our magazine,’ ” Parks recalls.
As chief, Parks has created what is believed to be the first cold-case unit in the nation and fired 130 police officers for misconduct.
In 2000, his granddaughter Lori was killed. She was an innocent victim in a gang-related attack.
He credits his wife, Bobbie, for getting him through that tragedy.
“Bobbie was a mainstay. She was the one that kind of pulled it together. Kept everybody in tone,” he said.
Bobbie and Bernard Parks have been married for almost 50 years. He met her on the job directing traffic downtown.
“And so she rolled the window down. She had three or four women in the car and she says, ‘I just need to know how does a girl get arrested?’ ” Parks recalls.
When then-mayor Jim Hahn didn’t reappoint Parks as LAPD chief in 2002, many of the mayor’s supporters were shocked.
“Four years later, the public said, ‘We remember what you did.’ And he was a one-term mayor,” Parks said.
Parks is serving his third term for the 8th Council District. In June, he will term out of office.
Parks said he plans to take some time off but hopes to remain active in public life by serving on corporate boards.