City's police department spokesman answers calling

Parker traveled the globe preaching before he chased criminals

May 2, 2009 

APD Lt. Dave Parker, 58, is a self-proclaimed Calvinist who was a pastor for 14 years before joining the force.

BOB HALLINEN / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God.

-- Romans 13:4

He enjoys fine red wines, telling jokes and putting rapists in prison.

Anchorage police Lt. Dave Parker, the department spokesman, is the city's most visible cop these days. He's the force's public face, the one who appears in television and newspaper stories describing the city's crime and mayhem.

He wasn't always a cop.

About 14 years ago, Parker's life took a radical turn when he chose to leave a life of church work and immerse himself in the dark world of Anchorage's sex offenders, with its frightened, scarred children and cold, unrepentant offenders.

It wasn't a choice that came lightly to Parker. In fact, for him it was more like a calling.

He says it was the Lord's will.

"We believe that God puts us wherever we are," Parker said of his faith. "God is sovereign in all things. What happens to you and what happens to me, day-to-day, is all ordained by God, in that he uses it for His purposes."

Parker, 58, a self-proclaimed Calvinist, is at once an ordained preacher and a cop. He's a born-again, evangelical Christian who majored in biology during college and spent years traveling the globe as a missionary.

His faith seems unwavering, even in the face of prostate cancer. He learned that diagnosis Wednesday. He doesn't view it as a test of his faith so much as an opportunity to reflect, to depend more heavily on God, he said.

"God heals," Parker said. "Sometimes he does it through doctors, and sometimes he does it miraculously, and sometimes he does it by taking us home."

GLOBAL MISSION

From his earliest days, Parker felt the touch of God. He grew up in Tuolumne County, Calif., the son of devoutly Christian parents, his father a dentist. He studied biology at a Christian college, Seattle Pacific University, where he met his wife, Marge.

But it wasn't until after living in Yemen that he found his true calling: to spread the word of God. In the Middle East, he taught grade-school science at a Christian school to students who had only in recent years seen their first automobiles. There, he came to realize he had another purpose.

"It was like something that took place in me and it was not something conscious that I did," Parker said. "All of a sudden I found a tremendous interest and hunger for spiritual things, and to understand the word of God."

The Parkers made their way back to Portland, Ore., where he was ordained at the Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in 1981.

For the next 14 years, world travel was the game. They traveled to France and Ivory Coast, Africa, working with local congregations, planting churches and spreading the word of God. For a time, Parker was the senior pastor at his wife's hometown church in Bremerton, Wash.

When a chance arose, he took a gig as a police chaplain, helping officers with counseling, advice and spiritual guidance. The Gospel, Parker says, compels one to be active in the community, to help people.

He and his wife came to Anchorage in 1993 after a small, local church asked him to pastor. One day, he brought a member of his congregation to police headquarters to apply for a job, and thought about helping out as a chaplain.

It wasn't meant to be. A statewide chaplaincy program didn't have any spots. So Parker applied to be a cop instead, thinking it could open the door for him. He got the job, he says, because the Lord worked it out for him.

"As I understood it, there were initially 700 applicants or so, and they narrowed it down and chose six, and he was one of the six," Marge Parker said. "That kind of made it rather obvious, I think, to me that it must be what the Lord wanted for him."

THE DETECTIVE YEARS

It was 1995 when Parker joined on, first working patrol and on a community policing detail. It didn't take long for him to gravitate toward detectives.

As Parker sees it, there are two kinds of cops. Some like the fast pace and action of patrolling the streets. Others like the puzzle-solving, the thrill of the hunt, of detective work.

"I really enjoyed focusing on a particular genre of crime and the hunt. I know that there's a bad guy out there, I know he's hurting people," Parker said. "I love getting the bad guy. Isn't that an awful thing to say?"

For much of the 10 years he was a detective, he moved between rape cases and dealing with abused children, specializing in infanticide cases, and later winding up in charge of both units.

He says he was drawn to those crimes, some of the most taxing to work, because he wanted to help people who were taken advantage of, those who couldn't always defend themselves.

"The folks in there are special people," police chief Rob Heun said. "And the things they see. You know, as a cop, you develop an idea -- sometimes you're really shocked at what human beings can do to each other. But it takes on a whole different perspective when you see what human beings can do to children."

Marge Parker said their two sons were already grown and with children of their own by that time, and that her husband thought it was better that he work such cases than other officers who still had young children.

Still, those cases can take a toll. Police crime prevention specialist Anita Shell recalled once approaching Parker to get information for reporters on a particularly disturbing case back when he was heading up the crimes against children unit.

It wasn't the offender's first time. Nor the child's. Parker's reaction to the case as he listed the past offenses was, as she recalled, "explosive."

"You could see him spooling up as he was saying how innocent this child was and how much this child had been through," Shell said. "He was infuriated. He was just very, very angry at the system."

Last year, Heun named Parker as the spokesman for the department and pulled him out of the thick of it. Heun said he needed someone with discretion, who was outgoing but knew when to hold his tongue. Parker's energy and humor helped, he said.

For Parker, the transition was bittersweet.

"It was a good gig, but it was time for a change," he said. "Ten years of that has taken a toll. You still carry a lot of those cases, as I said, in your heart."

IN GOD'S HANDS

These days, Parker attends service and is an elder at the Anchorage Grace Church in South Anchorage, a nondenominational evangelical community Bible church with an attendance of about 450, said Ron Whitt, the executive pastor.

"He's the kind of guy that, in my experience, he is not only fun to be around, but he brightens pretty much everyone's day," said Scott Grant, chairman of the board of elders at the church.

Parker still preaches there on occasion and volunteers to lead Bible study groups a couple of times a month at McLaughlin Youth Center, where he has sometimes encountered people he knows from his day job.

He hopes they are able to sit back and reflect on their lives, to turn things around. After all, Parker said, the Scripture teaches that all people tend toward sinfulness, beginning with Adam and Eve.

"Ultimately, that rebellion has continued in the heart and life of every human being that's ever lived, except one, and he paid for it with his life on the cross," Parker said.

He says it matter-of-factly, explaining but not preaching. Parker doesn't advertise his beliefs or push them on others. But for those who want to hear, Parker is there to help them along.

"Someday I'll go back to preaching," Parker said. "But I don't know when. It's not in my hands. I'm sure it will be clear when it's time."

His latest tribulation, the cancer diagnosis, is also out of his hands, he said. A course of treatment was still being decided, but Parker said the cancer was still early on and small -- when it can most effectively be fought.

Parker said his father survived prostate cancer, and he's confident he'll beat it too, with the help of his doctor, and of God.

"It is a sobering, sobering thing, but at the same time, it doesn't have to rule your life," he said. "There's a future and that future is assured by the creator of the universe, and so these things, though they're setbacks, though you'd just as soon rather certainly not go through it, you have to realize that God's too big of a god to waste pain. And it all serves a purpose."


Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.

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