Law enforcement

Group aims to recruit more Asian American police officers in Chicago area

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John Pham is a member of the Chicago Police Department, serving as a tactical officer in a role he describes as his calling, and he is looking to encourage Asian Americans to follow his example.

“I’ve always wanted to help people and the Asian American community and that’s why I’m involved in the Asian American Law Enforcement association,” he said.

He’s been the vice-president of the association for seven years, working to recruit, develop, and advance the careers of Asian Americans in law enforcement.

“I believe it’s very crucial to have more Asian officers within the community because there’s a trust factor within a cultural aspect of it and we try to bridge that divide,” he said.

Pham admits the process hasn’t been easy, but said at the height of COVID he noticed a sudden shift.

“A lot of Asian hate crimes that happened during the pandemic—I believe that kinda cause more impactful and more involvement with current officers and recruiting officers in general,” he said.

The Chicago chapter of the Asian American Law Enforcement Association is the second largest in the nation.

The association has seen an increase in membership jumping from 250 to 600 members since 2019. But the president of the association said one of the challenges they’re facing after recruitment is career advancement within the department.

“Definitely we’re making progress but it’s not where we would like to see this, said Henry Lai, president of AALEA. “Most of our members feel like when it comes to career advancement—we always get left out.”

The Chicago Police Department did not respond to NBC Chicago's request for an on camera interview.

According to data from the Chicago Officer of Inspector General, as of April 2024, there are 11,679 sworn members of CPD. 404 of them identified as Asians, making up just 3.46% of the force-- a small bump compared to last year.

“Most of the Asian families do not like their kids to join the force, but I’m seeing the trend is changing right now,” said Lai.

While it’s still not where they want it be, they know it’s a step in the right direction to break the cultural barrier at a time where they say more representation is needed.

"Especially right now I believe the Asian community is on the rise right now in Illinois so definitely more Asian officers will help," said Lai.

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