By Trevor Chapman
Northwest Asian Weekly
Officers from the Bothell Police Department attended the second annual Diversity and Inclusion Conference at the University of Washington, Bothell to discuss their agency’s diversity policy and action.
The conference on April 8 doubled in size from the previous year, according to UW Bothell Chancellor Dr. Bjong Wolf Yeigh.
“What I thought was interesting was that the people who attended the conference were supportive of the theme,” says Sergeant Ethan Nguyen of the Bothell Police Department.
“People on the fence or who are ignorant on the topic [of diversity] should attend, but how do we reach those folks?”
Other members of the Bothell Police Department explored their concerns about diversity and its importance to the department as well.
“We’re making inroads to make connections and relationships within the community instead of keeping everybody at arms distance,” says Captain Mike Johnson of the Bothell Police Department. “We have a very diverse department and it makes it really a nice place to work. A lot of different people bringing stuff to the table.”
Johnson credits this movement to a new wave of officers coming to the department with a new outlook on the job.
“There’s [sic] younger cops coming into the workforce. They have a different understanding, a different perspective, a different background, a different history than the old guard of police,” he said. “It’s much more of a servant/leadership type attitude. We’re here to serve the public versus we’re here to go out and arrest the public.”
One of the conference’s workshops, “Allyship,” discussed the inclusivity of underrepresented groups in the workplace. According to the conference webpage, “allies help promote inclusion among peers and work teams, they also help others understand the importance of equality, fairness, and mutual respect.”
Nguyen experienced challenges finding that “allyship” at first, but has noticed a lot of progress since he was first hired in 1998.
“I would go to training and it would be all white males,” Nguyen recalled. “Even though no one was actually saying, ‘Hey, you’re different,’ you knew.”
Nguyen immigrated to the United States from a refugee camp in Guam after the Vietnam War.
Through a church sponsorship, he was able to move to Klamath Falls, Oregon, where his family was the only Asian family in the city.
“My parents were all saying, ‘Watch what you do, what you say, because you’re the only type of your person around,’” he remembered. “But what’s important to me about diversity in the police department is being able to relate to the people that you serve.”
“I feel proud of our agency, that we over-represent the minority — because Bothell is pretty white,” Nguyen states. The United States Census Bureau estimates a Bothell population that is 78.6 percent white as of 2014, down from 79.7 percent in the 2010 census.
Despite his diverse team, Nguyen is still concerned about the upper ranks of other departments in the area.
“It’s nice that they have [minorities] as line people. If you don’t see them higher up, that’s a problem,” he says. “It’s just a copout to hire [people of color]. But what are you actually doing with that?”
Nguyen would like to see improvement with the way culture and diversity is discussed to create more cohesive agencies, possibly in the form of semi-regular trainings, similar to UW Bothell’s Diversity and Inclusion Conference.
“We have qualifications for firearms. For Bothell, we have a mandatory one, a minimum of twice a year,” Nguyen explains. “Why can’t they create something like [the diversity conference] where they learn something?”
The Diversity and Inclusion conference provided a place to explore ideas and start discussions, but it can’t stop there.
“It was a great conference, I think I learned a lot,” Nguyen says. “But it’s kind of preaching to the choir at this point.”
Being inspired by the conference, Nguyen and Johnson are in the early stages creating a diversity group within the Bothell Police Department. The hope is to make sure the conversation of inclusion stays fresh and to allow the department to better serve the community.
They have also hired a speaker from the “Courageous Conversation” workshop to come speak to the department.
“We’re proactively thinking about how we build relationship with minorities and groups without our city,” says Nguyen. “As police, we want to change our face to the public.”
Trevor Chapman can be reached at email@example.com.