BACK IN the bad old days of Philadelphia public housing, high-rise buildings blotted out the sky. Crime was abundant, and the stairs stank of urine and garbage. Elevators rarely worked, and children sometimes plunged to their deaths down the dark shafts.

When the elevators were out of service and there was some kind of energency up high, somebody had to climb those smelly stairs, as much as 17-18 stories.

This was William E. Parks, Philadelphia Housing Authority cop, who didn't appreciate the aerobic workouts he was getting on those steps as he rushed to help people in trouble.

Bill Parks, a Housing Authority police officer for 20 years and an Air Force veteran, died Thursday of heart failure.

He was 71 and lived in Kensington.

He retired in 1995 at about the time the Housing Authority started tearing down the high-rises in favor of more civilized low-income housing. But for most of his career, he had to cope with those stairs.

"One time he climbed the stairs and found a woman who needed oxygen," said his wife, Albertha. "He told her, 'Right now, I need it.' "

Much of Bill's work was spent defusing domestic problems - boyfriends beating up girlfriends, and vice versa. And, often, the participants wouldn't give their right names - or didn't know each other's names.

"He would have to put something like 'Moochie' and 'Coochie' in his report," his wife said. "And 'Moochie' and 'Coochie' always got back together."

Needless to say, drug-dealing was a big problem that Bill and the other Housing Authority cops had to deal with. And he occasionally had the unpleasant task of picking up a body, more than a few of which had been undiscovered for too long.

"If there was violence, he would have to call for backup," his wife said. "He had a lot of stories to tell."

And often Bill would tell those stories with good humor. "He could make a joke out of anything," said Albertha, known as Bert. "He was the life of the party."

Bill spent a lot of his career at the Richard Allen Homes, in North Philadelphia, which one tenant, Bill Cosby, memorialized in his comedy routines, recounting his adventures there with "Fat Albert" and other childhood pals.

Bill Parks was born in Philadelphia to Lucinda and Ernest Parks. He graduated from Mastbaum High School in 1957, and shortly thereafter enlisted in the Air Force.

He served his four-year hitch stateside as an AP - air police officer.

Discharged in June 1962, he worked a number of jobs before joining the Housing Authority police force in 1972.

Bill was fond of music, especially rock 'n' roll and doo-wop oldies, and was an enthusiastic dancer of the Bop. Many a social occasion found Bill dancing and singing in a robust baritone some of the classic songs of the Rolling Stones, the Dells, Temptations, Flamingos, Jerry Butler and the like.

As he got older, the strenuous dances became a bit harder. During one session, he urged a friend to cut in on him "before I die on the dance floor."

Bill was fond of dogs, and always had one, his last being an akita named Smokey.

He and his wife, the former Albertha Sumter, were married in 1991, but had been together a total of 42 years.

He also is survived by two daughters, Lekisha Handsome and Rochelle Thompson; a brother, Robert "Butch" Parks; and four grandchildren.

Services: 11 a.m. Saturday at Rome Emmanuel Baptist Church, 11th Street and Lehigh Avenue. Friends may call at 9:30 a.m. Burial will be in Mt. Lawn Cemetery, Sharon Hill.