Saturday, May 28, 2011

William Parker and the LAPD, Part I

So how corrupt was the LAPD in the 20s, 30s, and 40s? Let's look at some popular culture references.

In the movie Changeling, one [in fact, two] courageous pastors use a religious radio broadcasts to expose the LAPD incarcerating in a mental hospital an "inconvenient" woman who was making charges against the department. Numerous accounts that Doug and I accessed confirm that the basic underlying story is TRUE.

In the novels of Raymond Chandler, the LAPD of the late '30s and early 40's is depicted as a mixture of some good cops and some that are lazy, incompetent, and on the take from various corrupt activities. In fact, more than one of the historical accounts claim that the LAPD of the period was, if anything, worse than Chandler depicted (certainly worse than the version depicted in the movies made from his novels). In the late 1930's, a crusading group of civic reformers, again with strong ties to local religious leaders, gained power on the county grand jury and began exposing civic corruption. The local news media, especially the vibrant competition between the Times and the Examiner, kept the story before the public. Representatives of the reform group were subject to violent attacks. Eventually, Mayor Shaw was recalled and his brother indicted over a scheme to sell police and fire commissions. (The, um, checkered history of the LA County District Attorney is another movie waiting to be made. ) The recall of Shaw installed reform-minded Fletcher Bowron.

The movie L A Confidential (based on the novel by James Ellroy) shifts in time some important events that occurred in the 1940s while Bowron was mayor. The police, under new leadership, put intense pressure on leaders of organized crime to leave Los Angeles. Many left for Las Vegas. Mickey Cohen was indeed the face of the mob to most citizens of Los Angeles. But, in 1949, the news broke that a prostitution ring was being run with assistance from inside the LAPD. As far as we could tell, LAC's depiction of the plastic surgery to create prostitutes who resembled famous movie stars is fiction, but the Brenda Allen prostitution scandal and other concurrently revealed events were the reason that the LAPD needed a new police chief, and with a one vote majority on the Police Commission, that chief was William Parker.

Finally, here are the answers to our previous questions about famous fictional photos. Parker helped to make the honest, tough, hard working officer Joe Friday of "Dragnet" the face of the LAPD. At some point, Parker needed some help writing speeches, and the job went to an officer with writing talents named Gene Roddenberry. Two of our sources state that Roddenberry modeled the character Spock after his former boss, William Parker. And while the movie L A Confidential has a new, reform minded chief in the script, many of the personal characteristics of Ed Exley suggest the younger William Parker (right down to the glasses).

One of our best sources for the paper is the history L A Noir by John Buntin. And if you want to see how Joe Friday became a cultural icon, this clip is not to be missed.

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