Friday, February 1, 2008

Officers Reach out to Asian Community to Learn Cultural Differences

By Dawn Campbell

* Asians represent an image of peacefulness which makes many conclude this community is not in need of law enforcement assistance.
* According to the 2006 Census, there are approximately 45,647 Asian Pacific Islanders in Iowa.
* 70 to 80 percent of Vietnamese bear the names of Nguyen, Le, Phan or Tran.

These are just three of the interesting facts that Des Moines Police Officers, Polk County Sheriffs and officers from surrounding communities will learn from Asian community leaders during training at the Des Moines Regional Police Academy.

Due to cultural differences, Des Moines Police Department officials felt this training was important for officers. It is understood in law enforcement that Asians do not contact police due to a belief that police in the United State act like police back in their homeland. In Asia, some police are corrupt. Police are often viewed by some as the law breakers in the Asian societies.

“It is excellent to have this training,” stated Mira Yusef, executive director of Monsoon, United Asian Women of Iowa. “It is a beginning. . . and it’s important to have collaborations.”

This training is especially important to Yusef. Monsoon is an organization which focuses on domestic and sexual violence. Officers learned that some Asian women feel isolated due to language barriers, the fear of retaliation from their families and embarrassment. Yusef explained that domestic violence is not limited to Asian womens' spouses; it can also be received from the womens' extended family.

Vinh Nguyen, a Vietnamese community leader, provided officers an historical perspective of his community. He told officers of the four types of Vietnamese who make up this community. There is the first generation of immigrants which came to Iowa in approximately 1975. Secondly, there are the "boat people." This particular group of people escaped Vietnam in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s by boat. Nguyen personally belongs to this group, he said. Then there are AmerAsians. This particular group of individuals was allowed in the country because one of their parents happened to be an American G.I. Lastly, there is a group called South Vietnamese. These individuals spent time in concentration camps and were allowed into the states as part of an embargo agreement with the United States, he said.

One crucial piece of information officers learned was the role of community in Asian cultures. Lang Deng and Swallow Yan from The Chinese Association of Iowa explained drug use, alcoholism and domestic violence are managed by those in the community. It was reiterated that police are feared because of a concern that they have negative motives when interacting with citizens, he said.

Officers were left with one last thought prior to the end of training. Senior Police Officer Doua Lor, who is also the Asian Resource Officer, advised officers not to be offended if Asians, especially elders, do not look officers in the eye while holding conversations.

East Village Neighborhood Based Service Delivery Sergeant Misti Allison stated her opinion of the training. “I think it helps us a lot when responding to a call to assist them to know their beliefs and how they feel. I also thought it was good when Doua (Lor) talked about how they will not look you right in the eye when talking to you but that it is not disrespectful that is just how they are taught.”

Lor, who coordinated the training, continually looks for ways to bridge the gap between law enforcement and Asian communities. After officer training, Lor will turn his attention to organizing the Asian Citizens Police Academy. This program will teach the Asian community about the organizational structure and services provided by the police department.

Top photo: Vinh Nguyen, a Vietnamese community leader discussing the Vietnamese community.

Group Photo: Front Row - L to R: Leng Dang (Chinese), Senior Police Officer Doua Lor (Hmong), Alta Sissocco (Filipino), Lori Baccam (Tai Dam), Mira Yusef (Filipino), Alma Reed (Filipino) and Public Information Officer Vince Valdez

Back Row L to R: Don Phommachakr (Lao), Vinh Nguyen (Vietnamese), and Swallow Yan (Chinese)

*The group the community leaders represented is in parentheses.

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