Concerned that the ethnic makeup of the Torrance Police Department does not reflect the growing number of Asians in the city, Councilman George Nakano last week asked police officials to make a forceful effort to recruit and hire officers of Asian ancestry.
Nakano, the first nonwhite on the Torrance City Council, said this week that he wants to meet with Police Chief Donald Nash later this month to discuss ways to bring more Asians to the 234-member police force, which is 90% white.
Nakano's request is his first effort during five years in office to get more minorities hired by the city, he said. It is not prompted by any problem caused by under-representation of Asians in the department.
Mayor Supports Effort
Nakano has not raised the issue before the council, but his idea has the support of Mayor Katy Geissert.
The Torrance Police Department has three Japanese-American police officers who comprise about 1.3% of the force, police officials said.
In an interview Tuesday, Nash said the department tries to recruit minority officers at college job fairs and through advertisements in foreign language newspapers, but so far has had little luck.
"We just don't get that many applications" from Asians, he said.
Nash said he looks forward to meeting with Nakano.
A projection based on the 1980 U.S. Census shows that Asian and Pacific Islanders make up about 13% of Torrance's population of 137,962, with Anglos comprising 75%, Latinos 10.7% and blacks .8%, according to figures from National Planning Data Corp., a demographic research firm in Los Angeles.
Nakano, who is of Japanese ancestry, said he believes the Asian population of Torrance is growing, and points to Torrance Unified School District, where the percentage of Asian students has increased from 13% to 26% in 10 years.
He said he believes that the Asian population--which includes American citizens and foreign nationals--is closer to 15%, because there are a substantial number of illegal immigrants in Torrance.
The growth of the Asian population "is a factor that we have to look at," he said.
Mayor Katy Geissert said Thursday that she supports Nakano's desire to increase the number of Asians on the police force and has talked with Nash about increasing the number of minorities.
"It would be very desirable to have that mix of ethnic background," she said.
Lt. Robert Armstrong, head of the Police Department's personnel division, acknowledged that the ethnic makeup of the police force does not reflect the city's diversity, but said the department continues to make an effort to address the situation.
He said he is satisfied with the number of Latinos on the force, but agreed that Asians are substantially under-represented.
There are 15 Latino officers, about 6% of the police force, Armstrong said.
Although the number of blacks is low, the two black officers make up about 1% of the force. That is similar to blacks' representation in the city's population. Armstrong said he would like to have more blacks on the force.
"We would love to get some black and Asian officers," he said. "It would be great."
There is one American Indian on the force.
Armstrong speculated that the reason it is so difficult to recruit minority officers is that minorities would rather work in a city that has a large minority population.
Few Asians Applied
"It may be that blacks would rather be on a department that serves a larger group of blacks or actually has more blacks on the force," he said. "I don't know, that is speculation. But I just try to put myself in to their position and see how they'd feel."
Armstrong said he has heard of very few instances where officers have had difficulty communicating with Asians because of a language barrier. He said most of the Asians in Torrance speak English and those who do not are assisted by a group of volunteer translators who work with the Police Department.
Nakano said he is not sure why so few Asians have applied, but he surmised that a cultural propensity to avoid confrontation may steer Asians away from police work. But he also agreed with Armstrong, saying, "There might be some discomfort with joining a group where there are not many like them."
Nakano said he would like to see the department recruit Asians as one way of preventing any problems that might be caused by friction between the police and the Asian community. Because of their cultural and language background, Asian officers would also make members of the Asian community feel more at ease in working with the police, he said.
Nakano said he decided the city needed more Asian officers when he noticed the growth in the number of Japanese-style hostess bars in Torrance. The bars, which cater to the drinking habits of Asian businessmen and immigrants by providing female drinking companions, are closely monitored by law enforcement officials who watch out for violations of state liquor and prostitution laws.
Nakano, who has expressed disapproval of the bars, said that if more Asians were on the police force they could do undercover work at the bars.
Nakano said another source of his concern arose from a rumor he heard about a group of Asian youths beating up a white youth in Torrance. He said this kind of thing could lead to the forming of Asian gangs in Torrance, and he feels that Asian officers would have the most influence over Asian youths who might form a gang.
Armstrong said he has not heard of any Asian gang violence in Torrance.
"I don't think that we've got that problem now," he said.