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Building trust with Chinese residents through a community policing academy

  • The Alhambra Police Department held its first Chinese-language community academy in May and June 2018. The police department held a Spanish-language academy later in the year. Photo by Phoenix Tso.

  • A community academy student learns how to use a police cruiser siren.

  • Academy participants are tested on their response to a domestic violence call.


Alhambra , CA United States

At the end of May, a group of people gathered in the gymnasium at Mark Keppel High School.

This class could have passed as a beginners kickboxing lesson, except that the instructor was teaching them to yell “Police! Get back!” while landing rapid-fire punches on a cushion that his partner was holding up. The students were learning self-defense as part of the Alhambra Police Department’s Chinese-language community academy.

The point of the academy is to build trust between the police and the community. This has been especially challenging in the Chinese community given language and cultural barriers.

“We hardly get to do this with the Chinese community,” said Ben Yang, one of the department’s six Chinese-speaking police officers. “A lot tend to fear us, even if we smile.”

The Alhambra Police Department has organized numerous English-language community academies as part of its outreach strategy. This is its first Chinese-language one. During this six-week program, participants were treated to ride-alongs and demonstrations involving Enzo, one of the department’s two police dogs. They learned useful information about 911 and traffic laws and were tested with scenarios like a traffic stop, a domestic violence call and a mental health call.

These academies help participants form a positive association with the police, beyond the officer who writes your traffic ticket or who responds to a dangerous situation.

“Participating in the class really changed my perspective of the police,” said Jerry Kang, a Pasadena resident who works in Alhambra. “They’re actually just one of us.”

Other students have found the information they’ve learned at the community academy useful. “I’ve learned a lot about policing as a job and about personal safety,” said Raymond Wang, who lives in Temple City.

Graduating from a community academy enables participants to volunteer with the Alhambra police, at events or even on patrols. Many past community academy graduates were helping out at the Chinese-language police academy, including Steve Du, who can speak both Mandarin and Cantonese and provided translation at the classes.

“I’ve seen a lot of things on the front lines,” Du said. “I do this to bring the community together.”

The Alhambra Police Department is hosting a Spanish-language Community Academy later this summer. Applications are due by July 9. More information here. Applications for the next English-language Community Academy are due on August 20.

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