Asian officers serve, relate

By Zachariah Bryan
Northwest Asian Weekly

com_chan.jpg (300×287)In a department that is being constantly scrutinized for ill behavior toward people of color, creating a more diverse workforce has become a major concern.

In the past few years, the Seattle Police Department has experienced a wave of controversial, high profile cases and intense criticism which has led to a Department of Justice investigation.

In response to the investigation, Mayor Mike McGinn has rolled out the SPD 20/20 Plan, a comprehensive package of new reform initiatives. Among them is a plan to actively engage and recruit people of different backgrounds so the police force better represents the people they are serving.

“When we announced SPD 20/20, we promised to do everything possible to make sure we’re recruiting new officers for our police force who reflect the diversity and values of the community they serve,” said Mayor McGinn in a statement. “We project that in the next five years we will hire more than 300 police officers to replace officers who will be completing their careers. We are determined to make the most of this opportunity to shape the police department of the future.”

Having police officers that understand the diverse communities they serve will lead to more effective policing, said Kip Tokuda, a former state legislator and lifelong Southeast Seattle resident who worked with the Mayor’s Office to come up with a number of recommendations for targeted recruiting.

“A better educated police force is one of the factors,” he said, adding that current methods of diversity recruitment are not up to snuff. “Clearly the tried and true ways of recruiting have not worked.”

The plan that he helped create involves partnering with organizations that intimately know the communities that SPD is trying to recruit. Those include El Centro De La Raza, the Filipino Community of Seattle, and the Atlantic Street Center.

But all is easier said than done. Recent statistics show that 86 percent of Seattle police officers are male, compared to a Seattle population that is 50 percent female; 75.3 percent of the officers are white compared to a 69.5 percent white population. Just 8.5 percent of officers are Asian/Pacific Islander, a far cry from the 14.2 percent population.

“I would say things have improved, but not really where I’d like to see things,” Tokuda said.

For some Asians, there may be a few cultural barriers.

For North Precinct Patrol Officer Louis Chan, 32, who is second-generation Chinese American and who always knew on some level that he wanted to be a police officer, his parents caused him no small amount of doubt in his preferred career.

“Really the roadblock in my life was whether my parents were going to disapprove. Asians think you are going to be treated unfairly,” he said.

Initially, he went to college for digital arts. But he said, “I wasn’t really happy with what I was doing. It always fell back on maybe I should take the (police) test now. … It never went away, I wanted to find a place where I was happy doing what I was doing, so I finally took the test.”

Though his parents were wary at first, always asking questions whether he was being treated fairly, they have come to better understand and accept his position as a police officer. Chan said that overall he didn’t have a problem and, having started out in New York, he said that Seattle has been friendlier.

He also mentioned that, like in the fire service, size might play a role in many Asians decision to be in the police force.

“A lot of Asians are on the smaller side, I can see someone thinking they might have the willingness to serve but feel they are not adept physically. I could see that being a roadblock for some people.” But, he said, “Ninety percent of jobs don’t involve anything physical; (instead) it’s making it through a process and trying to figure out a solution.”

When serving diverse populations, Chan agreed that being Asian has made it easier for him to relate to certain demographics, particularly first generation immigrants that don’t speak English very well — even if he himself didn’t speak their language.

“I would know how to speak them, how not to offend them in any way, how to interpret speaking to them, because basically it’s like speaking to my parents,” he said.

For Chan, being a police officer is everything he hoped it would be, and for others who feel the same calling, he can’t recommend it enough.

“To me the challenge (of the job) is what’s fun; catering to the community that I’m serving and trying to solve the problem,” he said. “Every day is a little different. I find that amazing. … I pretty much conceded to the fact that I will be doing this up to the day that I retire.” (end)

For more info on joining the Seattle Police Department, visit

Zachariah Bryan can be reached at

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