Thirty Cantonese-speaking Oakland residents graduated from a five-week Oakland Police Department (OPD) Cantonese Language Citizen Police Academy on Tuesday evening, when they received their certificate from OPD Assistant Chief David Downing. Councilmember Abel Guillen from District 2, where Chinatown is located, congratulated the graduates at the end of the ceremony.
For five weeks, the Citizen Police Academy (CPA) walked them through learning about some of the things that come with having a badge—police patrolling, crime scene simulations, K-9 training, special operations—and other self-defense tactics and knowledge.
“This is indeed a useful connection between the police and us,” said Chun Ming Tan, a CPA graduate, before he went on stage to get his certificate. “I used to work as a prosecutor in China and now I was so happy to know about how a related system functions in another country.”
This is not the first time the OPD hosted a Cantonese Language Citizen Police Academy, but it has been a few years since the last one. Ana Martinez, the OPD Citizen Police Academy Coordinator, said the last program, which was also the program’s launch, was eight years ago in 2008. “It’s because of the lack of staffing,” Martinez said. “But now we’re planning to turn it into an annual event.”
The OPD also puts on English and Spanish versions and a youth version of CPA to achieve an increase in community engagement.
According to Downing, the CPA also benefits the police by humanizing their images. “We want people to feel comfortable with contacting the police, so this is a great way to do it,” Downing said after the graduation ceremony. “They actually get to know some officers by name, and that helps a lot.”
And the CPA did rebuild a positive OPD image in many Cantonese-speaking residents’ mind. Ying Shuen Gong, an elderly woman, said she now feels much safer to going out of her building. “I know how and when to call a police and how the police officers are working,” she said. “And I know what the police is actually doing when I see them on the streets. [Otherwise] I might just believe they are wandering around.”
Linli Yu, president of the Asian Youth Services Committee, said, “I realized the OPD is not as negative as the social media portrays [them].”
Currently, the OPD is embroiled in a sex scandal in which several police officers are accused of sexually exploiting a minor. According to the annual report by the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Task Force, a multi-agency organization targeting sexual exploitation in the Bay Area, “the damage the accusations had on OPD’s credibility in the fight against sexual exploitation” is comprehensive.
“But some officers or departments who are not doing well doesn’t represent the entire OPD,” Yu continued. “I met lots of officers here and they are really nice and responsible.”
Still, major Oakland safety concerns remain unsolved, according to some of the graduates. “I saw glass from broken car windows all the time in Chinatown,” Tan said. “There are so many cases and OPD should definitely have more police officers patrolling the area.”
According to Yu, their biggest desire is to have a safe environment for children and teenagers to live in. “Many teenagers love to play basketball in Lincoln Square Park,” she said. “But we don’t feel safe because so many homeless people are living there and some of them are mentally ill.”
“We have been listening to this advice from Chinatown and specifically giving out information targeting on them, such as ‘blessing jewelry,’” said Police Services Technician Kenny Ip, a Cantonese-speaking officer for the OPD. “Blessing jewelry” is a scam conducted by a group of people who cheat the elderly by replacing their jewelry with fake versions when they “bless” it. Ip said he had already been informed by residents about their concerns about car break-ins and homeless encampments, and said the OPD is now coming up with plans to offer help.