Reporter Corps recently visited the Alhambra Police Department and sat down with Police Chief Mark Yokoyama and Captain Clifford Mar. We wanted to know what has happened with the department since Yokoyama became the city’s first Asian American chief in April 2011, and to learn about his goals for moving forward. Accompanying Yokoyama was Mar, who has been with the department much longer, and even grew up in the city.
We spoke with them about stopping purse snatchers on Main Street, the myth about dangerous Asian drivers, how technology is transforming the Alhambra Police Department, and why gangsters often live locally and police officers do not.
Chief Yokoyama, has your relatively young age of 45 been an issue with senior officers?
Chief Mark Yokoyama: It hasn’t yet, in any of my promotional opportunities. The one time that it did was early on in my career. During my first promotion, I had only been a police officer for six years before being promoted to sergeant. Here I was, a 26-year-old police officer supervising 50-year-old police officers in the field who have been there for 20 years. And now I’m doing their evaluations and telling them what to do and how to do it. That was pretty much the only time that I had some initial problems. But over time, I got into management, lieutenant, captain, and chief. I’ve never had an issue.
What are the main things you’ve changed since you’ve became chief?
MY: One of the things that we are working on is to become more progressive, contemporary, and innovative in the things that we’re doing. We are working on a lot of technological initiatives. We just recently installed mobile audio and video cameras in our cars to videotape our traffic stops and police contacts and to protect officers, the agency, and the community as well.
Captain Clifford Mar: In the good ol’ days, we used information that came from the past. We even at times put it up on a board and a pin map. We didn’t have PowerPoint or whatever. But now with the new technology we can speed up the information so we know things that happened today. So really, we’re working with technology so that we can focus on the things that are more important. And really our priority for us is fighting crime. That’s what we do.
What kind of crimes do you see on Main Street? How often do they occur?
CM: We have a lot of nightclubs, restaurants, and bars. There are alcohol-related crimes but we also have a lot of property thefts and stolen cars. For some reason, women just like to leave their purses or property in front seats of cars. A lot of times, bad guys walk around and they actually see it. So they’ll break the windows of the car and grab any property, whether it’s a purse, bag, GPS, or cell phone.
How are you trying to prevent crime on Main Street?
CM: We try to get the information out. We’ve said to our officers who are on patrol out there to talk to patrons as they’re waiting in line, hand out flyers, and work with bar management and security. But for some reason, it keeps happening.
Do gang-related crimes occur in Alhambra?
MY: Well it depends on what you define as a gang-related crime. A lot of gang members go outside of Alhambra because this is their home and they don’t want their issues here in their town.
If you think of a gang-related crime as two gang members committing crimes against each other, then we don’t have that often, but we do have it periodically. A gang member from another area recently thought someone was also a gang member and a little encounter occurred involving the brandishing of a handgun. There was no shooting or stabbing. So we get those types of things, and periodic fights occur.
Is there any proof [to the stereotype] that there are more issues with Asian drivers than non-Asian drivers?
CM: It’s a myth. Being Asian myself, I’ve heard jokes.
What we do have is a percentage of Asian pedestrians getting hurt or killed. But not actually involved in traffic accidents.
What’s the Alhambra Police Department’s hiring process like?
CM: We invest thousands of dollars in recruits and officer training. Our candidates go through a testing process that consists of a written test, physical agility test, very thorough background investigation, comprehensive medical examination, and psychological evaluation. We call with the initial job offer and as long as they can completely pass then we’ll hire them on.
They’re then sent to police academy for four to five months and do a training period for another 16 or 20 weeks. So really what you have is a yearlong process before they go off on their own.
Are there any specific candidates you look for when recruiting? Especially since Alhambra is so diverse in languages.
CM: It’s illegal to profile or single out ethnicities for hiring, but it’s an added benefit if the person speaks another language.
Do you know how many Cantonese or Mandarin speakers are on the force currently?
CM: Roughly Five to Seven.
Out of how many officers total?
Do you see a need to have more?
CM: Yes, definitely. No matter what the community picture’s like, the officers reflect the ethnicity of the community. [But not speaking another language] doesn’t stop a police officer from being a good police officer.
How many of the police officers are actually residents of Alhambra?
CM: That I’m not sure, but very few. They come from anywhere from Orange County to the Inland Empire, Los Angeles, Simi Valley. The honest answer is, you know, Alhambra is not a poor community, property values are pretty darn good. So it’s really tough to get a home in this area, especially a young officer on their salary. So what they do is buy bigger homes in suburbs that are way out and drive in. Just like I do.
What are your goals moving forward?
MY: We’re going to start moving forward as an organization. Be more transparent, be community oriented, find opportunities to have good will with the public. That has been a big point I have been trying to drive home to the organization over the past year.
Interview was edited and condensed.
*An earlier version of this story did not make sufficiently clear that Asians being bad drivers is a stereotype. That was due to an editing error and was changed. We regret the error. -dg
**Clarification: Seven reporters, including five members of Reporter Corps and two editors, posed questions to Police Chief Yokoyama and Captain Mar. This was part of the orientation for Reporter Corps, a program to train recent high school graduates to report on their own community. Albert Lu transcribed the interview, which is why his byline is on this story. -dg