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Why Monterey Park Has A Hard Time Recruiting Asian Police Officers


Like a good Chinese son, Bob Hung's parents expected him to grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, maybe an accountant. Instead, much to his parents' disappointment, he became a cop. In fact, Bob Hung is a sergeant and the only Mandarin-speaking officer on patrol in the city of Monterey Park in Los Angeles County.

Monterey Park is home to the largest percentage of Chinese-Americans in the country, nearly 50 percent of the population. The department there is working to bring more Chinese speakers in. And it's not an easy task. Bob Hung joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

BOB HUNG: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: So with such a large Asian population, especially Chinese speakers, it would seem like not a tough thing to be able to recruit Mandarin-speaking police officers. But it is. How come?

HUNG: Well, the reason there's - culturally, there's a lot of barriers to overcome. You know, a lot of our families were raised to go towards a white-collar work. And blue-collar work or public safety is not something that we are pushed or encouraged to pursue.

MARTIN: So how did this become a career path that you decided was a good fit for you?

HUNG: You know, it was a little bit of a journey for me to follow the path of law enforcement. You know, like, I wanted to fulfill my parents' dreams of coming here to the United States and obtaining an education. After graduating from the University of California, Irvine, you know, I pursued, you know, finance and economics. And I tried those fields for a couple of years.

And I just was not happy. Every single morning, I'd wake up and question myself why I was following this career path that wasn't happy?

MARTIN: So what did your parents say when you told them for the first time that you wanted to be a police officer?

HUNG: Well, you know, they were a little bit in shock. My uncle even offered to pay for my law degree. But at the time, you know, I wasn't interested. And once my heart was set on pursuing law enforcement, I told my parents that this is the path I wanted to pursue. I told them that I truly believed in bridging the cultural and language gap between the immigrant population.

And I believed I had the ability to do that.

MARTIN: I understand your mom in particular had a lot of hang-ups about this kind of work. What were they? What were her specific reservations?

HUNG: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with her cultural experiences in Taiwan. And in Taiwan, you know, law enforcement is not viewed upon the same way as it is in the United States. So a lot of her cultural, possibly biases, almost carried over.

You know, the fact that law enforcement academy recruits have to shave their heads gave a connotation of either you're a gang member or you're a prisoner or you're a soldier. In addition to that, in Asia, in the past, mainly, there's a lot of corruption tied to law enforcement.

MARTIN: What happened when you got onto the force and you started getting out into communities and you were able to talk with residents in their native language? How did they respond to you?

HUNG: I do see a sign of relief or a sign of connection. I think it eases a lot of the tension and apprehension. And so it brings a sense, I think, of relief a lot of times when there is someone who's able to, at a minimum, communicate with them.

MARTIN: Are you a better cop because you can engage with residents in their - in Mandarin, in their native language?

HUNG: You know, I don't think it makes me a better police officer. But I think it does allow the agency in really following one of the main theories of law enforcement. And that is community policing. You know, in community policing, it's about engaging the community, and one big part of that is the language.

MARTIN: What does your mom think now?

HUNG: I think she's proud. She has come to accept the fact that this is my chosen career path. And she's proud that I'm serving the community of Monterey Park.

MARTIN: Police Sergeant Bob Hung of Monterey Park, Calif. Thanks so much for talking with us.

HUNG: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.