William H. Parker (William H. Parker)

William H. Parker

Police chief of the Los Angeles City Police Department (LAPD). He was called “… Los Angeles’s greatest and most controversial chief of police”. The former headquarters for the LAPD, the Parker Center, was named after him. He served 15 years as an LAPD officer before taking a leave to fight in World War II. He received a Purple Heart after being wounded during the Normandy invasion. As soon as he returned home he was re-assigned to basic patrol status with the LAPD. He was the longest serving police chief and served on the force 39 years (starting on August 8, 1927). Born in Deadwood, South Dakota, he and his family migrated to Los Angeles in 1922. He became police chief on August 9, 1950 and is credited with transforming the LAPD into a world renowned law enforcement agency. Parker was a member of the police department during its last era as an old ward peacekeeping oriented force. The department that he took over in 1950 was notoriously corrupt. His experience in that atmosphere, with its heavy involvement by partisan groups in the police department and comingling of political circles with vice and corruption on the streets led him to conclude a different organized police force was necessary to keep the peace. Parker’s experience with military public relations in World War II was used to develop an effective media relations strategy for the Police Department. Through television shows such as Dragnet and a steady stream of good publicity from local newspapers, he was highly admired nationwide. Parker was a guest on the television program What’s My Line? on August 21, 1955. Under Parker’s early term, the Los Angeles Police Department initiated a more professionalized force which institutionalized officers into an environment that was more answerable to administrative oversight than political representatives. Included in this change was a standardized police academy, more proactive policing methods, and less use of violence but more use of force in securing areas, practices very similar to military peacekeeping methods which he was exposed to during the war. During Parker’s regime, the LAPD faced accusations of police brutality and racial animosity towards black Americans and Latinos which resulted from Parker’s recruiting of officers from the South, most of whom had military backgrounds with strong racist attitudes. Longstanding mistreatment of minorities eventually led to the Watts Riots of 1965. For decades to come and to this day, critics see Parker as the man responsible for ongoing tensions between the law enforcement and minority communities. There were rumors circulating that Parker himself was a racist when he made insensitive remarks regarding blacks and Mexicans. He often denied that race was an issue in Los Angeles and in the police department when it came down to high arrests among minorities. Another aspect of changes initiated by Parker which changed the police force from one of a walking peace-force to a more militarized mobile response force, was a reduction in the size of the police force, in relation to the population. The term “Thin Blue Line” was coined by Parker. Parker’s experience with the larger by per capita force of his early career led him to estimate that fewer but more professionalized officers would mean less corruption. Additionally, the strategy of changing the beat posture to one of mobility led to change from foot patrols to one which favored police cars. Not incidentally, this also furthered Parker’s belief that isolating his officers from the streets would reduce opportunities for corruption. However, Parker recognized that certain areas of the city and certain functions of the police department needed to remain rooted in the more traditional form of police work. Although Parker made reductions in police corruption and cleaned up the overall image of the police, certain sections of the police continued practices which lent more to an image of old semi-corrupt control of vice and petty crime. The vice squad and reserve force continued to remain controversial elements of the police force. Parker also used elements of the reserve force such as the Organized Crime and Intelligence Division of the LAPD to keep tabs on suspected politicians and their mafia syndicate allies as well as the notoriously corrupt and narcotic ridden Hollywood movie industry system and its celebrities. The novel and film L.A. Confidential provide a fictional depiction of the LAPD under Parker during these years. The majority of native Angelenos and those who moved there in the immediate post-war era remained loyal to Parker’s abilities and he stayed as Police Chief until his death. However, in the political crisis of the late 1960s and 1970s, and the entrance into the media of overtly anti-police politicized journalists, his image and that of the police department fell. Parker served on the Los Angeles County Civil Defense and Disaster Commission during the nuclear crisis in the early 1960s. Perhaps his most famous quote was stated later in his career, about corruption, and police brutality cases within the department: “We’ll always have cases like this because we have one big problem in selecting police officers…we have to recruit from the human race.” (bio courtesy of: Wikipedia)  Family links:  Spouse:  Helen Parker (1909 – 2000)


  • June, 21, 1905
  • USA


  • July, 07, 1966
  • USA


  • San Fernando Mission Cemetery
  • California
  • USA

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