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Mark Yokoyama: building a police force that understands its community

In "Alhambra Characters" we highlight our favorite snippets from past interviews. The series puts a spotlight on Alhambra's diverse and vibrant cast of denizens.
Mark Yokoyama was sworn in as Alhambra's first Asian police chief in 2012. Upon his arrival he told the Source that his goal was to help the Alhambra Police force become a "progressive, contemporary, and sophisticated" department. Since then, he has integrated new technologies, embraced social media, and promoted community outreach. Recently he messaged the Source to update us on the APD's current initiatives, and whether or not he's accomplishing his goal of growing a police department that's attuned to the needs of a diverse and contemporary city. 
What made you decide to become a police officer?
I grew up in a pretty rough part of LA — in the Rampart area, right near the old Rampart Police Department. I’d see drive-by shootings, I’d see stabbings. I had a chance to see the police a lot. Fortunately I stayed on the good side of the law. The way the police treated me, interacted with me, plus my general interest in what they were doing — it just came together. Since high school I knew that it was what I wanted to do.
As an Asian officer, did you ever face prejudice in the police force?
I did face some barriers. Back in the early mid 80s when I was going through the police academy there was an almost stereotypical role that I was given: they saw my role was community relations – not out making arrests and being involved in enforcement activities. They’d said I was quiet. I don’t know if it’s true for all Asian cultures, but for many there is some quiet nature to them. That was taken as I wasn’t going to be able to be confrontational, have command presence, be able to control a situation. That wasn’t the case. I am quiet by nature, but if I need to take control of a situation I’m going to do it.
When you came into this job you said your goal was to create a "progressive, contemporary and sophisticated" department. Have you accomplished that? How so? 
I do believe that we have accomplished quite a bit in the past years as an agency, but would say that becoming progressive, innovative and contemporary is an on-going effort and perhaps not completely attainable since society and times change so quickly. That said, we have certainly worked very hard to reach out to the community to develop relationships and become more engaged and transparent, especially with our minority-majority community. Some of the ways we have done this is through the use of Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, WeChat, and our on-line web solutions. Where we can we have produced applications in Chinese, Spanish and English. We have created ways for the public to interact with the police department more, whether that be via social media, mobile phone apps, anonymous tip reporting, or our website. Our yearly open house in conjunction with National Night Out and our Coffee with a Cop programs, or our “Don’t Ignore It; Report It” program, are a few examples of other ways we are reaching out to the community. I am also very proud of our Mental Health team, which partners a police officer and a L.A. County Department of Mental Health clinician to help deal with the serious issues of mental health on our communities. All of this said, I am most happy with the philosophical beliefs and commitment the men and women of the police department have committed to community policing, ethical policing, and the importance of building police-community relationships.
You also spoke about the challenges of recruiting Asian officers. How have you dealt with that in Alhambra, and does that remain a concern? 
The recruitment of Asian police officers continues to be a challenge, but it is a challenge we continually work on. Just like any other organization we market the benefits of our city and department along with all the great things we do as an organization and hope that our reputation brings the applicants to us. On a positive note, based on our current staffing, 17 percent of our department is Asian, which is comparable to or higher than other police departments. We will continue to recruit the best and brightest to the Alhambra Police Department.

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