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Alhambra's top cops answer hard questions *Updated

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.

Reporter Corps visits the Alhambra Police Department.

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?

Chief Mark Yokoyama and Captain Clifford Mar at Alhambra Police Department's National Night Out

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?

Chief Mark Yokoyama talks to an Alhambra resident.

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?

CM: Eighty-five.

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

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14 thoughts on “Alhambra's top cops answer hard questions *Updated”

  1. Thank you Daniela for organizing the report corp, good job Albert Lu and the rest of the crew! Becoming American and living a better live in our new mother land are the dream of all immigrant, early Chinese immigrant went through hardship that the current new arrival cannot imagine, let alone the ABC growing up in San Gabriel Valley under the protection of their hard working folks. Let’s don’t treat others the way that we don’t want to be treated, we must learn to live with everyone – Asians, Latinos, blacks or Whites.

  2. To clarify: 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 the first class of 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.

  3. @ Albert Lu,

    So are you selling out to your own fellow reporters? Why point the origination of the question to someone else? At this point, it really doesn’t matter anymore. Your name is on this article, now you have inherited ownership of this posed question. Perhaps to be at least fair, you should have posed a question yourself regarding Hispanics, Blacks, and Whites…

  4. Asian immigrants are often unpolished and unconfident drivers. Their fear and lack of skill turns into “bad driving”.

    Certain more ghetto Hispanics have the skill and knowledge but still often ignore traffic laws and do not care about being overly-aggressive, treating the road as one big battleground for their machismo.

    These two groups share the same Alhambra streets. Neither is horrible on their own, but the combination can be very tiresome to deal with.

  5. Most new immigrant drivers are not as polite as locals and Asians are no different, we drove under very very different road, traffic & mentality back home, but we all kick the bad habits after a while, it is no myth simply because there are a lot of new Asian Immigrants In our community, trying to assimilate……

    I wonder what were the Chief referring to when he said “pedestrian being hurt or killed but not in traffic accidents”, I know many seniors exercise by walking the neighborhood streets and what can we do do to prevent that from happening again?

  6. I was not the person who asked that particular question on Asian drivers. There was a group of seven people asking the Chief and Captain questions that day.
    Thank you.

  7. Downtown L.A. in a parking lot I use to see a station wagon with a bumper sticker reading “Watch Out Here Comes an Asian Driver!” I thought to myself, “this Asian driver is having fun with this stereotype & making fun on himself” what a good sense of humore

  8. bandshoesfromprobers

    I’ve heard for years about Asian women being prostitutes. Should we ask Alhambra police about that?

    Come to think of it, we better ask the cops if the Mexicans in town are mostly illegal. I’ve heard about that for years, too.

    What year do we live in? And where do we live?

    I can see this kind of asinine question being asked by some clueless out-of-town reporter from the L.A. Times and Pasadena Star-News, but the Alhambra Source?

    I just don’t know what to say.

  9. Jose, 

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, it's definitely a stereotype. It's also one that I have heard over and over again in the past 3+ years working in Alhambra. And it's a stereotype that Captain Mar said has no validity. That is the reason we thought it important to run the story, and draw attention to the issue. 


    1. Jose – On further consideration, we decided to update the story, to make sure that it was clear that this is a stereotype. Thank you again for your feedback. 

  10. “Are Asians Bad Drivers” – what kind of (insert negative adjective here) question is that? How about questioning a policeman – or for that matter, joking about – the integrity and humanity of White people. It doesn’t matter to me that the “reporter” happens to have an Asian last name. My concern is the summoning of racist and hate-mongering rhetoric to entice readers and create readership.


  11. Easy there Adam, I think you’re digging in too deep about Chief Yokoyama’s statements. That was more like a general statement, that home prices are pretty high on ANY low salary. He just happens to mention a young officer’s salary because, after all, he’s the Police Chief and talking about his department.

    I have several cop buddies and many choose NOT to live in the area they work. Some are for personal reasons, some for safety ones. Would you like to give tickets to your neighbors, friends, family, and acquaintances? That would be more common if you patrolled in the city you live in. And more people would most likely know where you live too!. Besides, how many people you know work in the city they live in? I know many that don’t…

    So relax and don’t be too surprised about some “implied” comment…

  12. I’m a little surprised to read the implied comment that Alhambra officers cannot afford a home in our community. Can we find out a median salary number? I’d guess that the majority of the sworn officers with more than a few years experience are making well over $70,000 per year.

    1. @Adam, In 2010, police officers started at $64,000. The average total salary earned was $89,000. Police cadets started at 25,000 and their average total earned was $10,000.

      I imported compensation data from the State Controller’s Office into a Google Docs fusion table (a cross between a spreadsheet and database program). You can see all compensation for all employees during 2010 (the latest year such data is available).

      I used filters to create a table and summaries for all Alhambra employees.