After 34 years of dancing, singing and impacting countless students, Plano Police Officer Art Parker is calling it a career. The popular school resource officer, affectionately known as “O.P.,” has been assigned primarily to Clark High School for the past several years. Before moving to Clark, he was based at Plano Senior High and Wilson Middle School. He’s also made appearances at various other PISD schools over the years.
In 2016 Officer Parker was the first school resource officer to be named Plano Officer of the Year. He is known for his entertaining personality and ability to deliver serious messages with lots of laughter. On any given day he can be found making balloon animals, playing harmonica unprompted or rapping about the dangers of drugs. He has a legendary memory and worked each year to remember the name of nearly every student on campus. Three years ago, the CBS Evening News featured him on its “Living Stronger” segment, complete with footage of him dancing while directing traffic.
“I can’t say enough about Art Parker,” Plano’s Deputy City Manager and former Police Chief Greg Rushin said. “He’s going to be a huge loss to Plano, to the schools and the police department.”
One of Rushin’s favorite memories of O.P. is when he volunteered at a local 10K run. As Rushin and many of his fellow runners were beginning to tire, Parker jumped out, singing the “Rocky” theme to pump them up.
“He always finds the exact right time to do the right thing to make people happy,” Rushin said. “He’s a great cop. He’s seen his share of difficult situations and always served the community well.”
Luckily Parker will not be going away entirely. He still plans to volunteer at schools and have a presence in the city. There will also still be his famous balloon animals.
Parker says his decision to retire was the coming together of a perfect storm. In 2018 he had a medical scare and lost his dear friend and colleague Sam Pecoraro to cancer. This fall, he mourned his friend, Clark High School counselor Lori Nicks, who died in a tragic motorcycle accident.
“It was all just the realization that I’m not invincible,” Parker said. “With the totality of everything I just felt like it was time for me to do it.”
Growing up, Parker always knew he wanted to be a police officer. He began his career in the military police. While stationed in Germany, he won a competition called “Super Soldier.” A superior officer noticed that Parker always seemed to be smiling and created a role for him as “Officer Friendly.”
Before long, Officer Friendly was out on the streets of Manheim, working with German police to help children with handicaps and special needs. He gave presentations, coached the sport of hurling and eventually started a program where other soldiers mentored at-risk kids.
When his time in the military was over, he came to Plano and worked as a patrol officer for five years. After that, he became a school resource officer. During summer breaks, he would work other areas including property evidence, court
bailiff, warrants and bicycle patrol. He says those experiences made him a better police officer and a better resource officer.
While many of the things Officer Parker does may seem silly, they are done with a purpose in mind. That may be delivering a message or showing kids that police can be approachable, too. Earlier in his career some of those messages were delivered in a poem. As times changed, those poems became raps. He juggled, played games, told jokes and looked for even more creative ways to reach young people.
He also made it clear that if certain rules were broken, he would confront students in a heartbeat. Parker was a strong advocate for Crime Stoppers and had a zero-tolerance policy for smoking. He let it be known that he didn’t play favorites, and would not hesitate to do his job.
“You are the sheriff of a small town,” he said. “Once you let somebody off the hook after busting other people, your credibility is gone, so I stayed consistent.”
If a student was alone or seeming to have a bad day, Parker would say hi, maybe crack a joke and learn his name. Over time learning names became a game as kids would challenge him to learn theirs and test his memory.
A teacher once told him it was good for the black students to have him as a role model. Parker respectfully disagreed.
“It’s not just the young black men. It’s the young white men, white women, Asians, because they may have preconceptions of who I am,” he said. “Them knowing me is important. It’s important as a role model that I don’t concentrate on black [students] only.”
As he looks back, Parker said it’s hard to pick a favorite moment because there have been so many highlights. He’s proud to have been the Youth Police Academy coordinator for 25 years, and cherishes his connections with so many students.
“It’s really shocking to me sometimes to hear so much positive stuff and to hear people tell me that I changed their lives,” he said.
Plano Police Department’s Public Information Officer David Tilley admits that there are a few officers who might consider Parker’s antics an embarrassment. To them, he counters that Parker probably does more to humanize the department than anyone else. O.P’s approach and techniques work for him, and have been proven effective many times over.
“I think the traits and quality of this man, not just as a police officer, but as a human being and a man are top-notch compared to anyone I have ever met,” Tilley said. “Losing Art as a police officer and a school resource officer is going to be a huge impact. There will be somebody to take his place, but there will never be another Art Parker.”
Say goodbye to Officer Parker at his retirement ceremony on January 30th @ 11:00a at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.
Photos of Officer Parker throughout the years, courtesy of Plano Police Department: