William H. Parker (police officer)

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William H. Parker
William Henry Parker III

(1905-06-21)June 21, 1905
DiedJuly 16, 1966(1966-07-16) (aged 61)
Police career
DepartmentLos Angeles Police Department
CountryUnited States
Years of service1927–1966
US-O10 insignia.svg
Chief of Police

William Henry Parker III (June 21, 1905 – July 16, 1966) was the police chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and has been called "Los Angeles' greatest and most controversial chief of police".[1] He was the longest-serving police chief at 39 years on the force. The former headquarters of the LAPD, the Parker Center, was named after him.

Early years[edit]

Parker was born in Lead, South Dakota, and raised in Deadwood[2]. His grandfather William H. Parker (1847-1908), was an American Civil War veteran who later served in Congress. The Parker family migrated to Los Angeles, California, in 1922, for better opportunities, when the city was advertised as the "white spot of America" during that period.[1] Despite this advertisement, the Parker family were in a clear minority in the distinctly White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Los Angeles, due to their Catholic religion. Parker originally wanted to be an attorney, and studied at several colleges before enrolling in 1926 at the University of the West's Los Angeles College of Law, an institution which operated in the 1920s and '30s. He joined the LAPD on August 8, 1927, and continued his legal studies. Parker graduated with an LL.B. degree in 1930 and passed the bar exam, but opted to continue with the police department instead of practicing law.[3]

During Parker's early years in the department, he was an active union advocate, working to create job security and better wages for members of the police and fire departments. He served as an LAPD officer for 15 years before taking a leave to fight in World War II. He attained the rank of captain as a planner and organizer of prisoner detention and policing in Sardinia, Normandy, Munich, and Frankfurt. Parker received the Purple Heart after being wounded during the Normandy invasion. His other awards included the French Croix de Guerre with silver star and the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity.

After the war, Parker returned to the police department and rose through the ranks to captain, then inspector, and then one of the department's deputy chiefs.

Parker as chief[edit]

Parker became police chief on August 9, 1950, and is credited with transforming the LAPD into a world-renowned law-enforcement agency. The department that he took over in 1950 was notoriously corrupt.[4] Seeing ward politics, with its heavy involvement by partisan groups in the police department and mingling of political circles with vice and corruption on the streets, led him to conclude that a differently 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.[citation needed] Thanks to shows such as Dragnet[5] 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 LAPD 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 and more proactive policing methods, practices very similar to military peacekeeping methods to which he was exposed during the war.[1]

Under Parker, the LAPD faced accusations of police brutality and racism towards the city's African American and Latino residents. According to a documentary commissioned by the LAPD in 2009, Parker supported the city's power structure, which he denied was racist as late as the 1960s.[6] Some critics see Parker's policies as responsible for ongoing tensions between the LAPD and minorities. Although Parker testified to the Civil Rights Commission in 1959 that segregation was not a problem, in 1962, he ordered the desegregation of the LAPD.[1][7] When asked by the Commission about discrimination against minorities, he replied "I think the greatest dislocated minority in America today are the police."[8]

The term "Thin Blue Line" was coined by Parker.[1][4]

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. Parker's experience with the numerically larger force of his early career led him to judge that fewer but more professional 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.[1]

Although Parker reduced police corruption and cleaned up the overall image of the police, certain sections of the LAPD continued practices which lent more to an image of old semicorrupt 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.[1] The 1990 novel and 1997 film L.A. Confidential along with the 2013 film Gangster Squad, provide fictional depictions of the LAPD under Parker during these years.

Parker served on the Los Angeles County Civil Defense and Disaster Commission during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s.[9]


Parker died of a heart attack on July 16, 1966, after attending a dinner where he received a commendation.[10]

Completed under Parker's tenure in 1955, the former Police Administration Building on Los Angeles Street was renamed Parker Center shortly after his death, and served as LAPD's headquarters until the new HQ was completed in 2009.[11] Now being demolished, Parker Center lives on in popular media, with frequent appearances and mentions in the classic TV series Dragnet, Perry Mason, Columbo, and in the films, Blue Thunder and Inherent Vice.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Billy G. Mills (born 1929), Los Angeles City Council member, 1963–74, investigating the Watts riots


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Buntin, John (2009). L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 9780307352071. OCLC 431334523. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
  2. ^ "Chief William H. Parker". LAPD HISTORY. Retrieved 2018-12-14.
  3. ^ http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/Member/Detail/12050
  4. ^ a b Randall Sullivan (2002-05-17), LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records' Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal, Atlantic Monthly Press, retrieved 2007-08-31
  5. ^ Staff. "W.H. Parker (1905–1966) Miscellaneous Crew". Amazon via IMDb. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
  6. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/21/opinion/oe-rutten21
  7. ^ http://www.laweekly.com/news/the-bum-blockade-zoot-suit-riot-and-bloody-christmas-2135303
  8. ^ https://books.google.ie/books?id=De1uGmvpw30C&pg=PA135&lpg=PA135&dq=lapd+desegregation&source=bl&ots=dQUmMnZmjs&sig=NvjsaAIaixtBQI4WpM4LZ_8cK1s&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwim8eCJzv7PAhVsIsAKHSNgBSkQ6AEINTAD#v=onepage&q=lapd%20desegregation&f=false
  9. ^ "Businessman Appointed to Civil Defense Group". Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1961, p. WS22.
  10. ^ http://www.lapdonline.org/history_of_the_lapd/content_basic_view/1110
  11. ^ http://www.lapdonline.org/history_of_the_lapd/content_basic_view/1123

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Police appointments
Preceded by
William A. Worton
Chief of LAPD
Succeeded by
Thad F. Brown