The Alhambra Police Department announced the launch of a WeChat account on Tuesday in an ongoing effort to improve outreach to the Chinese community. WeChat is China’s most popular voice and text messaging mobile application.
APD will use WeChat to answer questions from users and conduct online communication sessions. Users can send in questions to the police’s account and, based on preconceived questions and answers, the software will generate an automated response. If the application cannot match a response to the inquiry, then the question will go to one of the police’s Chinese translators, said Sergeant Jerry Johnson. Johnson added that the online sessions are “still being worked on,” but said they will be “more interactive than just a question-and-answer.”
According to the APD, they will be the first police department in the country to use WeChat to reach their constituents. Police Chief Mark Yokoyama — working in collaboration with the Alhambra Source and community contributor Walter Yu — launched Weibo, a Chinese counterpart to Twitter, in December 2013. Cantonese or Mandarin calls to the department requiring translation increased about 60 percent in the four months after launching. The account currently has more than 40,000 followers. The results of an informal survey conducted through Weibo shows that the trust between Alhambra residents and the police has significantly improved and the initiative won the California Police Chief’s Excellence in Technology Award.
Yokoyama is convinced Weibo has transformed his force’s relationship with Alhambra’s Chinese immigrant population. “We’re answering those questions that have probably been on the minds of people for a long time. They just didn’t know how to ask or who to ask,” Yokoyama told the Annenberg Agenda. “It tells me people have some sense of trust in at least asking the question of the police. That’s the outcome that I’ve most enjoyed."
The police department hopes to use WeChat to reach Chinese speaking immigrants and a younger audience who rely on smart phones and mobile applications for information. Alhambra is home to roughly 85,000 people, 53 percent of which are of Asian descent, according to the American Community Survey. Of those, 30,000 are ethnically Chinese, according to the APD.
The APD's handle on WeChat is 阿市警察局.