I'm going to use two tape recorders because I don't trust machines.
Obviously I didn't do a good job explaining myself. That was almost the most painful time of my time as chief, because it was totally out of context from what I had intended. And since that time, science has proved what I said is true. We had gone to doctors -- I had an assistant chief who did the research and that idiot wouldn't come forward and verify [what] he had found. It was a painful thing.
What they hit me on was "normal." I meant it just as you have a "normal" temperature. That became, "Gee, Chief, are we driving black and normal cars?" It was hard for me. I was, quite frankly, very well liked in the black community. Even the gang members liked me. I'd roll up in a gang area; they'd say, "Hey, Chief, how are you? Good to see you." I'd scheduled a talk to some kids in an elementary school in the black community. And [the principal] called and told my secretary, "We'd rather not have the chief." That really hurt, really hurt. Then I got all the activists coming down and yelling at me -- all because of The Times.
Do you still subscribe?
Oh, yeah. There were great people [at The Times] like our cartoonist, [Paul] Conrad. He and I didn't agree on anything, but we went to baseball games together. This was a world-class newspaper, and I see it now and it's just very sad. But I get it, and I read it every day.
Even people who didn't like you sympathized about your son, Scott, and his years of drug problems.
I got thousands of letters, horribly pathetic situations like mine. The havoc that drugs have played on our population and our young people, it's horrible. There's hardly a family out there during that period of time who hadn't had a brother, father, son, daughter who got hung up on drugs. [Scott] has been clean for quite some time, but here's a young man who had everything going for him. He was big and handsome and athletic, and drugs just killed him. I probably spent a fortune on him -- in and out of rehabilitation, the personal tragedy, the difficult times with him. He was clean for about 12 years and doing pretty well, and then went back into it for a while, and now he's back out and OK, but he's just devastated his life and those around him.
You first took the chief exam in 1966. Just what was it about the job?
When you come on the department and you look at the chief's job and you look at the guy who is chief -- it's like God, Parker was -- and you look at all the other jobs in law enforcement, and you think to yourself: I wouldn't want to be head of the FBI; I wouldn't want to be anything else but chief of the LAPD.
I heard that one of your first orders as chief was "You don't have to wear those hats anymore" -- and the rank and file loved you for that.
When I was assistant chief in operations, I'd roll up on a call and I'd see these officers run back to the car and put their hats on: Hats are part of the uniform. These poor officers were diverting their attention from the incident because they're concerned about not wearing their hats. So when I became chief, I said the hats go.
One other thing: I used to go to these [law enforcement] memorials. I'd look at the sea of chiefs out there, and they all looked like admirals or generals, lots of gold braid going up their sleeves, and I'd think, "Jesus kee-riminy." When I became chief, I went to my locker and I brought my dress uniform out to Mary, my secretary, and I said, "Give this away. I'm a Los Angeles police officer. I love the uniform of the Los Angeles police officer."
If you look at chiefs now, in almost all the states and the nation, you'll see them wearing [plain] uniforms. I'm proud of many things I did and a lot of things I started, but that's one thing I'm really proud of that I've never gotten credit for.
You talk a lot about Chief Parker integrating the LAPD.
I knew his thoughts; I listened to him speak all the time. There wasn't a racist bone in his body; there really wasn't. If you go back and look at the LAPD, Parker's the one who integrated it. But more significantly, Parker's implementation of very, very tight discipline meant if you did something wrong, if there was a complaint, it was investigated. That wasn't true before. Before Parker, it was a department that had some significant racists in it. Parker's a guy who wanted to make sure policing [was] the same all over the city. He really believed that by the turn of the century, the country would be so integrated that there would be a black president. He believed that.
Did he think it'd be Tom Bradley?
Bradley was a very bright star in the Police Department, very bright. He made sergeant very quickly; he had great assignments. But he sold out the department in one of those assignments. He went to several meetings and really bad-mouthed the LAPD, bad-mouthed Parker. At that time, Parker had a pretty inclusive intelligence system, and so Parker knew exactly what Tom had said at those meetings. Instead of pointing out all the good things about the department, he emphasized the negative and [was] just undermining what Parker was doing.