California police department will sign up for Sina Weibo - Chinese 'twitter'

Updated: 2013-12-09 11:02

By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York (China Daily USA)

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In an unusual move to reach Chinese immigrants, a California city's police department will be the first in the country to open an account on Sina Weibo, a China-based microblogging website similar to Twitter.

"We have a large population of Chinese people in Alhambra," Police Chief Mark Yokoyama said. "We want to be progressive in reaching out to the community, and Weibo is a tool to increase community awareness and outreach to immigrants."

Alhambra's population of 85,000 is more than half Asian American, with three quarters of that group identifying as Chinese. The city is about eight miles north of Los Angeles.

Mayor Stephen Sham had been encouraging local government departments to engage with the Asian-American population, so when Yokoyama read an article that suggested ways in which community organizations might do that, he reached out to the author of the article Walter Ma, he said.

"While the Asian population continues to grow nationwide - it's the fastest growing ethnic group in the country according to the Pew Research Center - a new study from Brown University shows that the community is still just as segregated from whites in Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas as they were 20 years ago," Ma wrote in the article, published in USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism's local paper, Alhambra Source.

"I believe the segregation is a problem, especially for social and health organizations in the San Gabriel Valley that are trying to reach the Chinese community," Ma wrote. "The word 'outreach' is a combination of the words 'out' and 'reach'. To engage new immigrants we must go 'out' and 'reach' them in their comfort zone."

In addition to utilizing Weibo, which has more than 500 million users worldwide, Ma also suggested making websites mobile-friendly, using Chinese social media chat application WeChat to get a sense of where Chinese immigrants are logging on in the area, and using Chinese language in communications.

The police department will continue to develop outreach efforts with Ma and the Alahambra Source, which will provide translation resources, collect questions from residents and businesses throughout the city, host a planned forum, and recruit local volunteers, police department spokesperson Jerry Johnson said.

"Together, they hope to help the Chinese community and all Alhambra residents and visitors understand local rules and laws, communicate with one another, and improve overall public safety," Johnson said in an official statement. "Recruiting sufficient Asian and Chinese-speaking officers is a challenge for police departments throughout the Los Angeles County area and it is the desire of the department to increase engagement of the community through volunteerism."

Although a few other government agencies run Weibo accounts to draw Chinese tourists, the Alhambra police department's account is the first to specifically target Chinese immigrants living in America, Johnson said.

The account can be found at Look for the department's first social media campaign, #AskAmericanPolice, in the coming weeks.

(China Daily USA 12/09/2013 page2)