When newly minted Glendale police officers Olga Varouzian, Anna Khlgatian, Patrick Takla and Daniel Lee received their badges on Thursday, they became the latest examples of the department’s efforts to better reflect the city’s ethnically diverse population.
Of the 17 recruits who were sworn in last year, 10 were listed as being of an ethnic background other than white. The most recent hires include six Armenian officers, one Latino and one Korean — representing the three largest ethnic minority groups in Glendale.
The need for officers with ethnic backgrounds that reflect the local population has become even more vital as the Police Department works from an area command and community policing model, Police Chief Ron De Pompa said.
“To be truly effective, you need to represent the community,” he said. “You need to have the language skills and the cultural awareness to effectively connect with those communities and neighborhoods.”
Officers of diverse ethnic backgrounds made up half of the Police Department’s 244-person force last year.
To recruit prospective officers, the department has used two strategies: seeking out officers with Armenian- and Korean-speaking skills and recruiting teens to join its Explorer and cadet programs, De Pompa said.
More than 50% of teens who participated in the programs spoke a second language and were of ethnic backgrounds, he said.
The programs were successful recruitment tools for police up until three years ago, when the recession forced the department to freeze its hiring, De Pompa said. As a result of the hiring freeze, enrollment numbers have dwindled.
Councilman Rafi Manoukian said the Police Department’s latest recruitment effort was a “step in the right direction.”
“I think it’s important for the Police Department to reflect the community it serves,” Manoukian said.
In the past five years, Glendale police has hired more officers with ethnic backgrounds than white officers, according to department records — 34 versus 24.
The department didn’t hire any officers in 2009 due to a citywide hiring freeze.
The following year, the department hired just one officer, who was Armenian.
Nine Armenian officers have joined the Police Department’s ranks since 2007, as have 14 Latino officers.
“Being in a city where there are a lot of Armenian-speaking citizens, I hope to connect the citizens with the department and connect the citizens with the city of Glendale and be a voice for the department,’ said Varouzian, one of the newest recruits, who was born in Iran but grew up in Glendale.
In the department’s push to meet the community’s needs, especially for Korean neighborhoods in North Glendale, five Korean officers were also hired during the five-year span.
Alex Woo, president of the Glendale-Korea Sister City Assn., said he has been spreading the word about the Police Department’s latest effort to hire more Korean-speaking officers.
“I think the department recognizes the deficiency,” Woo said, adding that the recent hires were long overdue.
Some Korean residents have found it difficult to explain a crime or incident to officers due to language barriers, which was “kind of handicapping them,” Woo said.
There are also cultural differences to consider.
Koreans often try to handle any issues within their family and community before notifying the police, Woo said. But a Korean officer, he said, may help them open up and address those problems with the help of authorities.
Having a Korean officer respond to a call, he said, is “huge benefit to the department, as well as the community,” Woo said.
Lee said he plans to use his Korean background to build a bridge between diverse communities. A transparent and open-door style of policing, he said, is critical to interacting with diverse communities.
“I just want to be able to help the community out and build a good foundation … and make sure everybody in the community is safe,” he said.