Two Asian-American officers make inroads in neighborhoods
By KAREN ESCHBACHER
Kent Yee slowly maneuvers a Quincy Police cruiser down a quiet side street in the city’s Montclair neighborhood, his eyes scanning houses that line the one-way strip.
“This is an Asian house,” Yee said.
Sitting next to him in the passenger seat, Greg Mar nods in agreement.
“See the gardens, all the buckets from the restaurants. And they love to have this brick work,” he said, pointing to red bricks that neatly line the perimeter of the walkway and lawn.
Yee and Mar know the nuances of this neighborhood well. For the past several years, they have been community police officers in North Quincy and Wollaston, spending their shifts tending to neighborhood issues, responding to calls when translation is needed, attending events at local schools, stopping by businesses and trying to make inroads with the city’s growing Asian-American population.
When Asian-Americans began moving into Quincy in the 1980s, there was not a single Asian-American police officer in the city. That lack of diversity, language barriers and a general fear of authority that developed in homelands thousands of miles away made many of the city’s newest residents reluctant to turn to law enforcement for help.
That reticence lingers today. To prove the point, Yee notes how several workers avert their eyes when the officers walk into the Super 88 market under construction on Hancock Street. The market opened last week.
But Yee and Mar - both Asian-American - say they are making progress.
“Just being an Asian face to an Asian face seems to break some of those barriers down,” Mar said.
Both Yee and Mar speak Chinese dialects, enabling them to elicit information that might normally be difficult to get. Just recently, they helped with a possible abduction investigation. Through a series of interviews, they learned that the man was picked up by federal immigration officers, something his family did not know.
But beyond their job as typical police officers, the two play a host of other roles. Unlike regular patrol officers, who typically respond to problems, then climb in their cruisers to head to the next call, the community police officers maintain a constant presence.
“Community policing deals with more everyday life,” Yee said. “We get involved with a lot of the youth programs and other community events. When they have the festivals we represent the police department.”
Mar said he regularly deals with quality-of-life issues, such as residents who are unhappy with their neighbors’ overgrown lawn or a clothesline that hangs in a front yard.
“I go to the house, I ring the doorbell and I explain to them you can't do this,” he said.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Yee and Mar cruised the neighborhood (on most days they ride bicycles), popping in to so say hello to several business owners. In Quincy Dynasty Restaurant, they gulped down bottled water and chatted with co-owner Vivian Ma about where she can pick up a larger fish tank.
Ma said she has turned to Yee for a host of problems, like when customers haven’t paid her delivery person, or when parking was a problem near her store.
A few hours later, the two officers went to a meeting at Quincy Asian Resources Inc., where they participated in a planning session for the upcoming August Moon Festival. Yee pressed for information about how proceeds from the event will be used, arguing that English classes are desperately needed.
Later in the week, Yee taught his regular Tae Kwon Do class at the Parker Elementary School, and Mar helped host a barbecue for the kids afterward.
“They are fabulous,” said Parker Principal Kathleen Foley. “They’re terrific role models for all the of the children, not just the Asian community. Every Friday they come in and teach Tae Kwon Do to about 75 kids. It is just so amazing to watch the kids hang on their every word.”
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