Charles Parks Reflects on Policing
By Dianne Anderson
Charles Parks confronted more than a few close calls trying to stay ahead of all the curveballs of his career back in his day.
Some things have changed a bit over the past three decades when he was a Commander in the Long Beach Police Department, but other things are timeless.
He was a single father of four young boys while active in the PTA, which was challenging. His educational background was seen as a threat by many as he pushed up the ranks for promotions.
Parks earned his associate degree from Long Beach City College in 1964, his bachelor’s from CSU Long Beach, and his master’s degree from Yale University/Occidental College.
From there, he pushed for the competitive position of Police Lieutenant.
Of all that officers confront on the job, Parks said that tests of personal integrity under the authority of the badge are the biggest challenges facing any officer.
In looking at Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd, officers stood around and watched. He said some cops just go along to get along.
“There are some things that I myself would not put up with. If a cop was doing something wrong, I’m gonna write him up. I’m not going to allow him or any others to do something with me that would cause me to compromise my principles,” said Parks, who was recently inducted into the Long Beach City College Hall of Fame.
Cops on the job may also entice newbies to do something illegal to hold it over their heads later if they try to move up within the ranks, he said.
Before his first promotion, he recalls when he and another officer arrested a drunk guy and booked him. His partner presented a big wad of bills that the intoxicated man dropped in the street, and told Parks to take the money.
“I said ain’t that his money? I said put it in his property. If I had accepted those bills from him, I would have compromised myself,” Parks said.
At other times, they might use that tactic to see who can or can’t be trusted.
“It’s not only in the police world, it’s in the military world and everywhere else,” he said. “Some people just don’t have the courage to stand up and be a man. They’ll compromise themselves for things not in the best interest.”
When Parks served as a traffic commander, he had nine supervisors representing125 employees under them in various assignments, including lieutenants, sergeants, civilian supervisors, motorcycle officers, five traffic investigators, and civilian employees responsible for parking control.
Following 33 years in the department, Parks retired and went on to serve as water commissioner for the city, and on the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury. He has received many accolades including Exchange Club Citizen of the Year, the Mayor’s Proclamation for outstanding service, and City Manager’s Incentive and Outstanding Achievement Awards. He also served as a volunteer with St. Mary Hospital of Long Beach, and the Historical Society of Long Beach, among several others.
Regarding the murder of George Floyd, he believes everyone was surprised by the three counts guilty verdict.
“The district attorney did a masterful job of presenting that case, but more importantly, that young girl, 17 at the time, saw this activity going on and got her cell phone and videotaped the whole situation,” he said.
Darnella Frazier provided the turning point in the case, he said. Her video quickly went viral.
“I dare say that without it, Chauvin wouldn’t have got convicted or even charged. I give the credit to her,” he said.
But he also thinks back to Watergate, and the 24-year-old Black security guard Frank Wills that blew the lid off when he saw the door lock had been taped over. He realized something was wrong and reported it. Five were arrested at the Democratic Headquarters which eventually took down President Richard Nixon.
Parks said it’s a shame that Wills hit roadblocks on jobs because he stepped up and did his job as a security guard. He had a tragic life, shortened, and mired in poverty.
“He brought down a crooked President of the United States and never could get a job. I thought about him when I was aware of this young girl. I’d like to follow her ten or 15 years to see what she’ll be doing.”