By Richard Kwon, 17, Loyola HS
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When I went to interview Chief Bernard Parks of the Los Angeles Police Department at Parker Center downtown, two things weighed on my mind. First, I thought that police officers are jerks, especially after I got a traffic ticket for a rolling stop a few weeks ago. Cops are out to get everyone, I thought. Second, politicians make for tricky interviews, because they gloss over questions and never give straight answers. I expected Parks to do the same thing.

Instead, I found that he was not elusive. Especially when he talked about the shooting death of his 20-year-old granddaughter, Lori Gonzalez. He said that he’s haunted by it. I thought that police officers pretended to be tough guys, but he was really honest with his answer. He’s still in pain about it. It made me realize I’d been prejudiced against him.

Before the interview, I felt nervous. But when he greeted me with a smile, I relaxed. Finishing our interview late on a Friday in August, his face showed signs of weariness. But he was still smiling in the end. And so was I.

[The following questions and answers are not in the order they were asked.]

Q: You see violence and death every day, but the night that your granddaughter was killed must have been different from all other experiences, because this time you were a victim.

A: "It’s one of the things that you never want to experience because no matter what has happened since then, you’ll always remember the phone call and questioning by the lieutenant saying, ‘This is what occurred. Do you have a relative by this name?’
    Then you hear the word that she is a victim of homicide. Although you know clearly what a homicide is, you have to go through your mind and go, ‘Homicide and Lori. How does it relate?’
    Then you have to quickly assemble and realize the impact it’s going to have on the family and how they are going to respond to it and how you’re going to keep them together. So it is a multitude of things that go through your head, and last thing you have on your mind is ‘I’m gonna collapse and just do nothing.’ Everybody expects that you’re going to be a part of what’s going on. You’re gonna be giving directions, be a part of it, lead the family, and do all that. So it is a horrendous experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
    And it’s a daily experience, because you don’t just bury someone that young. As a member of the family, you live with it daily. There are things that happen that remind you of it. You see her mother on a routine basis, and you see her struggle with it. You hear friends and relatives and how they struggle with it. So it’s a lifelong issue that you address."

Q. Proposition 21 allows minors ages 14 and older who are charged with certain types of crimes like murder and serious sex offenses to be tried in adult courts. Has Proposition 21 made a difference?
A: "I think it made a difference but in a very small number of cases. There are a very small number of cases in which someone, although they are young in age, are so hardened by their system that they act and perform as adults.
    What I have always looked at is that rather than to have 12 or 14-year-old kids tried as adults, I would prefer to see that we try them as juveniles in California Youth Authority, but then we make a decision when they become 21.
    We’ll determine, ‘Have we seen sufficient rehabilitation?’ If not, we hold them over as adults, as opposed to making a final decision about them at 14 and then being obligated to let them out at 23 or 24, although we have seen no rehabilitation in California Youth Authority. I’d much prefer to see that it is a process that we look at them as 14 or 15-year-olds and put them in a situation where we’ll keep them until they’re 24 or 25.
    But then we also make a decision at that moment and say, ‘We’ll either let you go or not let you go, because we don’t believe that you’ve been rehabilitated.’ The way that the systems are between adults and juveniles is a very early-made decision that you’re stuck with. If you try them as adults or try them as juveniles, you can’t unravel that at a later time. When we have to make that decision so early on in the case, we often may not make the best decision in light of an individual."

Q: How has youth violence changed over the years?

A: "In the ’60s, we called it juvenile delinquency, and we talked about truancy. Rarely did we ever see violent crime. Now, you find that there is significant youth violence. We find that many violent crimes, particularly murders, are committed by people 14 to 24 years of age."

Q: What is the biggest reason for the increase in youth violence and how do you plan to address it?
A: "The number one issue about crime is people’s failure to take responsibility for their actions. They believe that they can do whatever they want and someone else is responsible for it. So individual responsibility is very important. The other issue that’s important is that adults should be setting the tone for young people in each house."

Q: Tell me about your latest campaign called Stop the Violence. What does it mean?
A: "About 80 percent of people who died in homicides are males, almost exclusively of color and generally under 30 years of age. Almost 85 percent of all homicide victims in L.A. are black and brown males. People who kill them are generally 14 to 24. We also know that they die in large numbers between Friday night and Sunday morning. They also die between 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. When we look at those figures, we believe that even though we have dropped homicides significantly in the city, we know we can still make an impact.
    We can see certain parts of the city, Rampart, Newton, Southwest, Southeast, and Harbor are where 60 percent of all the homicides occur in the city of Los Angeles. So it’s very localized in certain parts of the city and in ethnic groups.
    And the key for us in this campaign is changing a couple of things. First part is to be out in the community versus the community coming to the police station. What we are looking to do is go out into the community, block off the street, invite the public into their neighborhood, and give them a message about violence and what they can do and how they can help themselves.
    Second part is to bring your materials and community-based organizations and police efforts to show what you can do to help those communities help themselves. No matter how visible we are and how much we want to be out in the community, we can’t be there 24 hours a day on every corner. So we have to instill in the community a belief that they are in charge of their communities when we are not there. It’s getting people together to realize they have a great deal of power to set the level of acceptable behaviors in their neighborhood."

Q: Where did you go to high school and what kind of person were you?

A: "I went to parochial schools for 12 years. St. Patrick’s on 33rd & Central, Holy Spirit on Pico and Burnside and Daniel Murphy on 3rd Street and La Brea Avenue. I played a lot of sports and really had a great time. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to studies at that time, but had a lot of fun with social activities in school. I played football, very little baseball, ran track and really had a great four years in high school. Then I went to City College for two years. And for a couple of years, I worked at a General Motors plant in San Fernando Valley [and worked] on assembly lines and put Chevrolets together. And then I joined the police department in February of 1965."

[Parks also earned a bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree from Pepperdine University.]

Q: When you were a teenager, what experiences did you have with police officers?
A: "My father was a police officer, so I had a very positive view of police officers. The worst thing I ever did was playing ball in the street, so I never really thought about them. I saw them and viewed them as being necessary, but had very little contact.
    The first contact that I really had with a police officer was after I started driving. I had one [traffic] ticket in my life. I ran through a crosswalk in front of a school a week before I joined the police department."