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1st Vietnamese Officer in Class : Police Academy Grads Ready to Serve

Times Staff Writer

A round of applause, a flurry of hugs and a 45-minute ceremony capped 18 weeks of training Tuesday afternoon as the San Diego Police Academy graduated its 101st class, which includes a 53-year-old and the first Indochinese graduate.

The ceremony was at the Miramar Naval Air Station theater.

“I feel mentally and physically in very good shape,” said Wilf Becker, at 53 the oldest graduate in the Miramar College class and the second oldest person to complete police training. “I’m very, very proud to have made it through the training. When they pin the badge on you, you’ve earned it.”

Becker said the most difficult part of his training was the academic side. His training officer, William T. Smith, said, “Becker did really good. He led the rest of the troops through the training.”

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Becker was born in Berlin in 1933 and immigrated to Canada when he was 30. He moved to San Diego in 1968 and opened a garage. He closed the garage five years ago and became a police reserve officer.

“When he told me he wanted to join the force, I was tickled,” said Officer Jim Kurupas, who patrolled with Becker while he was a reserve officer.

“He’s an excellent man and will be excellent police officer. He has maturity and the experience, because of the time he spent as a reserve officer.”

Trung Nguyen, 43, is the first Indochinese graduate of the academy. Nguyen, who served in the South Vietnamese army, received the award as the best marksman in the class.

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Nguyen became a police officer to establish a link between the Police Department and the large Vietnamese community in San Diego, he said.

“The Vietnamese community is not in contact with the police. They can’t speak the language and vice versa. I want to bridge the gap,” he said. He said he studied English while in high school in Vietnam.

During the ceremony officers listened to a speech by Lee Grissom, president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, who told them they will play an important, but sometimes unappreciated, role in society.

Referring to worldwide terrorism, Grissom said, “At a local level, you will act as our first, second and third defense against such activities. And your actions will not always be understood or fully appreciated.”

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There were 45 graduates at Tuesday’s ceremony. Thirty will work for the San Diego Police Department. In addition to the academy’s first Indochinese graduate, there were four black and five Latino graduates. Seven of the graduates were women, according to Sgt. Jim Duncan, academy coordinator.

Three graduates are with the Escondido Police Department, another is with the California Park Department and another with the California Fish and Game Department, Duncan said.

Eleven graduates are not with any agency, he said.

Graduate Kim Johnson became an officer after having worked as a secretary for the San Diego police. “It was something I always wanted to do,” she said. She waited before entering the academy because she thought she could not meet the 60-unit college requirement, equivalent to two years of college study. When the requirement was dropped, Johnson applied, although she found out later she did have 60 units.

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Duncan said dropping the 60-unit requirement made recruiting easier. “Recruiting officers had an easier time finding candidates, but the caliber of the officers is still very good,” he said.


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