The Alhambra Police Department announced Monday that it is now using the popular Chinese microblogging site Weibo to update Chinese immigrants in the United States. The initiative is part of a new partnership with Alhambra Source to increase outreach to the Chinese community in the San Gabriel Valley. Alhambra PD believes its social media outreach will engage Chinese residents in Alhambra and surrounding areas and improve public safety.
Alhambra Police Chief Mark Yokoyama met with Alhambra Source staff in July after reading a story on the news site by Walter Ma about strategies for reaching Chinese immigrants in the area. The meeting inspired Yokoyama to work with Ma and the Alhambra Source to create a strategy for improving communication between the police department and the Chinese community in the San Gabriel Valley.
“I feel that we’re not reaching out to [Chinese immigrants] as much as we should,” Yokoyama said Monday during a press conference at the Alhambra Police Station presenting the department’s Weibo account, adding that Chinese-language outreach will increase residents’ trust in Alhambra law enforcement and make them better crime witnesses.
“If we increase that engagement,” Yokoyama continued, “if we increase that communication, if we increase that trust, I truly believe we’ll have an impact on public safety in our community.”
Increasing Chinese participation and involvement is critical, said Alhambra Mayor Stephen Sham. “The story [Ma] wrote inspired our chief; it’s fantastic,” Sham said. “More than half of the population is Asian population, and a large amount of them have a Chinese background. For them to be involved and engaged in their own language is important.”
USC Annenberg’s School for Communication and Journalism chose Alhambra in 2008 to research the impact of local news on civic engagement, in particular in light of the challenges of reaching residents across ethnic and linguistic lines. Asian Americans make up more than half of Alhambra’s population, according to the U.S. Census. Of those, residents with a Chinese background are about 70 percent. Yet, compared to Latinos and Anglo residents of Alhambra, Chinese residents reported lower levels of civic engagement — including neighborhood belonging and civic participation, according to a 2010 USC Annenberg study. Responding to that need, in 2010 the school launched Alhambra Source, a local news website that uses journalism to bridge the gap between multilingual residents and city government and promote civic engagement.
Alhambra Source Senior Editor Daniela Gerson called Yokoyama a “path blazer” for his communication efforts. “I was thrilled when Yokoyama approached us,” Gerson said. “Some police chiefs are afraid of this type of communication with their constituents. He’s saying the opposite: The better we can communicate, the safer we’ll be as a community.”
While social media and online news sites like Alhambra Source increase civic engagement by making communication easier, Gerson believes in-person events are also important. Alhambra PD will partner with Alhambra Source again in March to host a multi-lingual community forum and bring together residents of various backgrounds and local law enforcement.
Ma, the Alhambra Source community contributor whose story inspired Alhambra PD’s Chinese outreach, created the agency’s Weibo account and is now volunteering as Alhambra Police Community Engagement Coordinator. Ma is excited for the project to grow and credits Alhambra Source for its seed.
“We are not just dealing with limited language, we’re dealing with how to engage them with this new project,” Ma said. “Alhambra Source prepared me to understand the dynamics of the community and their backgrounds and interests.”
The Alhambra Police Department and Alhambra Soure are seeking volunteers to help in Chinese outreach efforts. If you are fluent in Chinese, please contact Daniela Gerson at [email protected]