Chinese-American police officers rise in NYPD

Updated: 2014-07-07 06:20


LI ANG in New York

(China Daily USA)

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Chinese-American police officers rise in NYPD
Lieutenant MingFang Ho (left) and police officer Binhao Huang in the 109th Precinct office in New York. Li Ang / For China Daily

At the 109th police precinct in Flushing, New York, a Chinese man walked into the stationhouse looking for help, but he was too afraid talk to American police officers there because of the language barrier. He looked around and found an Asian-looking officer, so he approached him and reported a family dispute.

"When officers from the same ethnicity are in charge, Chinese people feel more welcomed and their voices can be heard," said Captain Tommy Ng, who is in charge of the 109 th precinct and recalled the incident.

Ng, 42, emigrated from Hong Kong at the age of 16, and has been a member of the New York Police Department (NYPD) for 17 years.

"NYPD is trying to put more Chinese officers into Chinese communities because if there’s problem communicating, they’ll have to find an interpreter and waste critical moments for solving the crime," said Ng.

The NYPD has a total of approximately 34,500 police officers, of which 3,000 to 4,000 are Asian Americans and around 1,500 of those are Chinese police officers, according to the Sergeant James Ng, president of the NYPD Asian Jade Society (AJS), which is a network for Asian police. He is no relation to Tommy Ng.

Ng, 42, works out of the Midtown South precinct, which covers the Times Square area, Penn Station area, which is heavily populated with Koreans and the garment district. He has been on the NYPD for more than 16 years; one of his brothers is also a sergeant on the force. Midtown South has 12 Chinese-American officers out of 350.

"Most Chinese-American officers on the NYPD are enterprising," said Huang Binhao, 42, and from the109th precinct in Flushing, who has been a policeman for four years.

"At least 40 percent of Chinese officers are supervisors," said Ng of AJS. "Compared to officers from other ethnicities in Asia, the community of Chinese supervisors is definitely bigger."

Thomas M. Chan was appointed the new chief of the NYPD’s Transportation Bureau, in February 2014, and was the first Asian American to attain the two-star and then three-star rank.

Nelson Chen was promoted to captain in March this year, becoming one of seven Chinese-American executive officers on the force.

Chen, who has been a policeman for more than 16 years, was transferred to the 72nd in Brooklyn after being promoted. The precinct includes Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace and a growing Asian community in the precinct accounts for approximately 10 percent of the population.

"This is my first time in 16 years working for a Chinese community," said Chen, who is a first-generation Chinese American from a Taiwanese family. Chen said he is working on his Mandarin to better communicate with residents.

"Right now I’m a little uneasy communicating, so I don’t feel comfortable to approach Chinese residents. And I believe they may feel the same way. So I’m trying to break that barrier so they can come up to me, and I can understand what they are saying and I can respond," he said.

Though he said that his Mandarin might still "need some work", that has not stopped him from interacting with the Chinese residents in the precinct. "I try to spend as much time as I can, at least once or twice a week. I walk toward 8th and 9th avenues. (near Sunset Park) specifically, because it is where the Chinese community expanded. I just say `Hi’ to everybody."

Chen said he works 45 to 50 hours a week, helping residents with "everyday life stuff, like a parking problem, or somebody got their car broken into." "A captain’s working hours are not constant or flexible and it’s all over the place, so it’s really hard."

Unlike Chen who was born in the United States, most officers at the 109th precinct emigrated from China when they were adults so they are fluent speakers of Mandarin, Cantonese and other Chinese dialects.

Surrounded by Chinese restaurants and Asian convenience stores, the 109th has 21 Chinese officers out of a total of nearly 250.

Huang from the 100th precinct said about 50 percent of crime in Flushing involves Chinese Americans and centers on domestic violence, landlord-tenant disputes and burglaries.

Lieutenant Ming Fang Ho of the 109th precinct, is 42, and has been a member of the police force for 10 years. "Chinese people are not familiar with laws and they are afraid of getting involved with police, so they usually do not report crime. I hope I can use my language skills and help them," he said, noting that this is the first time he has worked in a Chinese community.

A resident of the area who calls himself "Little Beijing" said, "I don’t report crime to police officers. I don’t want to get into any trouble; it’s better to stay away from the police."

A Chinese resident in Flushing, who asked not to be named, told China Daily that he once tried to report a disturbance to police, but because of the difficulty in communicating, he decided to hang up. "It’s better to have more Chinese cops since we speak the same language, it’s just easier," he said.

And Ho said: "From my experience, all the Chinese residents prefer to talk to me instead of talking to other cops, like white cops or black cops. I can feel it. They always approach me when they see me. They know I’m Chinese and they come up to me."

Though he never worked in a Chinese community before, Sergeant James Ng now gets to interact with tourists from China because of his patrol area near Times Square.

Inspired by a police officer he met in Chinatown at the age of 11, Ng said he is determined to become like him, protecting and looking after the community.

Working around the Times Square involves dealing with theft, lost and found, and sometimes an attack on a tourist, he said. ``My job is to keep the neighborhood safe, because when people feel safe in Times Square, they come visit and put more money into the US economy," Ng said.

Ng thinks his Asian face is why more Chinese tourists talk to him.

"People feel more comfortable when you can talk in their dialects, at least language, especially when they are victims of a crime," he said, adding that he thinks "it is beneficial for the community if there are more Chinese officers for certain areas."

Ho and Chen agree that police precincts near Chinese communities have a higher percentage of Chinese-American police officers, but they also believe "(Chinese officers) are evenly spread out throughout the city".

"There are more and more Chinese joining the NYPD in recent years, and it is a great move for Chinese residents and citizens to fit into American society," Huang said.