Council debates name of new police headquarters

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The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday took up the thorny issue of what to name the LAPD's new headquarters building. The $473 million edifice sits directly in front of City Hall and is set to open in July. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports that the naming issue focuses on one man.

Frank Stoltze: That man is William H. Parker. He served as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1950 until 1966 – longer than any top cop in the LAPD's history.

Jackie Dupont-Walker told the City Council that many of her neighbors remember him well. Dupont-Walker is president of the Lafayette Square Association, a largely African-American enclave off Crenshaw Boulevard just north of the 10 Freeway.

Jackie Dupont-Walker: Just to mention his name brought about the most painful and spirited discussion that reminded me of growing up in the South.

I'm told by the elders in my community that during his term, black young men were not allowed to go past Wilshire or into Hollywood. Young people who wandered into white neighborhoods were stopped, questioned, and too frequently arrested.

Stoltze: Dupont-Walker pleaded with the City Council not to transfer the name of the present police headquarters – Parker Center – to the new building.

Councilman Grieg Smith: Bill Parker came to this city and changed policing.

Stoltze: City Councilman Grieg Smith represents the Western San Fernando Valley. He's also a reserve LAPD officer.

Smith: This was the most corrupt police force in the western United States at the time he came here. You could buy the job of being a police officer.

It was a corrupt force with crime rampant in those parts of the city that it was OK because the police chief looked the other way. Bill Parker changed all of that.

Stoltze: Smith said that's why the new police headquarters should be named after Parker, depicted in a granite bust in the old headquarters lobby. Smith conceded that Parker was no angel. At one point, the former chief worried that blacks had "flooded" the community.

Smith: Yes, he was flawed, yes he was wrong, but who isn't?

Stoltze: Smith posed a rhetorical question – whether the city should seek to rename Jefferson High School because the former president owned slaves. Councilman Bernard Parks rose from rookie to police chief during his four decades at the LAPD.

He served under Parker and endured racial epithets from white officers. But Parks – a stubborn defender of the department – said Parker was a good chief. He noted that former mayor Tom Bradley – a former cop – supported naming the current police headquarters Parker Center when it opened.

Councilman Bernard Parks: If a Tom Bradley spent 21 years in the L.A. Police Department working around and for Bill Parker and actually was promoted twice, and in fact was the first African-American watch commander to supervise white officers in Wilshire, and he was never a person that was shy of speaking his mind.

Stoltze: Who knows what Bradley would say today? He died a decade ago.

Police Chief Bill Bratton opposes naming the new headquarters Parker Center. As he listened to the discussion, he jotted down a brief statement to the City Council.

LAPD Chief Bill Bratton: I believe it would be a mistake to burden the future of that building and the current and future men and women of the department with the controversial legacy of the past. They deserve better. (applause)

Stoltze: Councilman Richard Alarcon suggested naming the new police headquarters after Tom Bradley. Councilman Herb Wesson said it might be OK to retain the name Parker Center for the complex of police buildings east of City Hall, but the new headquarters needs a new name.

Herb Wesson: The name should reflect the new America. The new Los Angeles, the new LAPD, it should reflect us.

Stoltze: Wesson pointed around him to a racially mixed City Council. Former LAPD Chief William Parker had never had to deal with that. Amid the swirling debate, the council delayed a decision on a name for the new police headquarters and referred the matter to committee.