The new SPD officer speaks your language

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By Becky Chan
Northwest Asia Weekly

Officer Jing Wu in front of West Ward (Photo by Becky Chan)

When Jing Wu ran barefoot raising chickens in his village of Xunyang in Taishan, China, he never imagined that one day he would be patrolling Seattle-International District (CID) Chinatown in an SUV as a as a Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer. As a newly hired Chinese-American SPD officer who speaks Chinese, three dialects – Taishanian, Cantonese and Mandarin – Wu is assigned to Sector King, Ward West.

The Northwest Asian Weekly recently spoke with Wu at the West Precinct and CID.

Wu’s baby face beamed with happiness that reflected her Chinese name, Jing Hong (景鴻)—prosperity, bright future. (He passes by Jing Wu.) The dark uniform top with a shiny badge on his left shoulder adds to his confidence. He’s loaded with tools of his trade – service weapon, handcuffs, walkie-talkie, flashlight, keys, whatever he needs for his beat. But you can’t see the most important tool he uses.

Officer Jing Wu greets Harbor City restaurant server Ming Huang while walking through the international district of Chinatown. (Photo by Becky Chan)

Growing up in a rural village fostered a “don’t worry, be happy” attitude. Wu is gentle and respectful.

“My village was very small, very peaceful, Wu said wistfully. As in many rural areas in China, parents often leave their children behind to seek jobs in cities for better pay.

“It’s mostly grandparents and children,” Wu said of his village.

Wu’s father left the village and worked in security in Zhuhai, one of China’s first special economic zones created in 1980. It’s also near Macao, the Las Vegas of Asia.

When Wu was 11, his maternal grandfather, who was already in the United States, sponsored him, his brother, and his mother to join him in the Portland, Oregon area. Wu’s aunt ran a restaurant in Centralia where Wu’s mother worked as a dishwasher.

A year later, Wu’s father joined the family. His parents eventually left the restaurant business and worked for Safeway as deli cooks in Klamath Falls. Wu loved small towns and never encountered discrimination. He thought people were more innocent in small towns, more tolerant. They were curious to know more about the newcomers.

“I always have a positive mentality. The only thing that was difficult was the language, unable to understand others,” Wu said of adjusting to life in the United States.
After several years, Safeway offered to transfer Wu’s parents to Canby, near Portland. The family moved again, this time to Portland to start a new life.

Wu studied commerce on the advice of his father at Portland State University. He didn’t like it, not understanding trading theories. He changed his specialty several times and then gave up.

Officer Jing Wu near Chinatown gate (photo by Becky Chan)

“I had a hard time paying attention because I wasn’t really interested in the subject,” Wu said, “I didn’t want a desk job.”

Wu floundered for a few years. Like Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Groundhog Day,” he was unmotivated. He worked in his aunt’s restaurant, continued to live with his parents, and played video games. He was addicted to gambling, he languished.

“I couldn’t find success in real life. But in games, I could spend money buying all the equipment and building my characters so others would want to play with me,” Wu said. The fantasy kept a hold on him despite his parents’ pleas. .

One day he looked in the mirror and didn’t like what he saw.

“And I was fat! What have I become?” Wu wondered.

Determined to change, he reflected for three days on what he could do and bring to society.

“Ding. Ding. Ding. The light bulb went out in my head. Police officer!”

Renewed with a purpose, Wu returned to Portland State and studied criminal justice. This time it clicked. He graduated in 2015. To prepare for his dream job, he worked in security at Portland Adventist Hospital.

“I interacted with all kinds of people, some in crisis, some bipolar. Indoor and outdoor patrols are very similar to police work,” Wu said. Four years of hospital security work gave him a grounding in law enforcement.

In 2019, Wu applied to the SPD and was accepted. He graduated from the police academy in August 2020.

Data from 2021 provided by the SPD showed that out of 1,200 officers, 7.42% or 89 officers identified themselves as Asian. SPD data is not broken down by ethnicity. Seattle’s Asian population is 16.3% in 2021. Acting Chief Adrian Diaz told KING 5 on a November 2021 broadcast that the SPD needs 400 more public safety officers. The total number of officers has been falling since recent unrest, calls for police defunding and the pandemic. SPD Sector King has six officers. They need 10 officers of any ethnicity.

“I’ve seen three Chinese officers since I’ve been here,” Wu said. Wu may be the only Taishan-speaking officer who also speaks Cantonese and Mandarin. All three dialects are commonly spoken in CID.

The first Chinese settlers in the United States were mainly from Taishan. Located on China’s southern coast, Taishan was easily accessible to American ships recruiting cheap labor in the 1800s. These workers were relegated to ghettos, which became today’s Chinatowns. Many older people in Chinatown all over the United States only speak Taishanese.

Wu volunteered to take Chinese calls in his neighborhood, knowing firsthand the frustration of not being understood, a common complaint in the CID community.

“I encourage my fellow officers to keep up,” Wu said. Due to the language barrier, officers often avoid personal interactions. Wu teaches his partners simple Chinese phrases to help them break the ice. He wants to build trust between the community and the SPD.

“I also want the community to learn that it’s okay to express your concern to the police,” Wu said.

Wu asked to be on the second watch (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) so he could get to know the companies, and they him.

Ming Huang, a server at Harbor City Restaurant is a fan. He jumped to his feet when he saw Wu enter the restaurant. The two greeted each other like long-lost friends in Taishanese.

“We like having an officer who speaks our language, plus he’s friendly,” Huang told Northwest Asian Weekly. A female voice erupts in Cantonese from behind the counter: “And he’s so friendly!”

Huang continues: “He stops to see us. Unlike before, we are afraid of the police. Now, when we see him, we can share community news with him. He understands us.

“We never had an officer who speaks our language in Chinatown,” Huang said. “His ability to communicate with seniors and businesses eases the tension.”

Last December, the SPD transferred him from the King sector to the David sector, near Denny Way. Upon hearing of Wu’s departure, Huang wrote a letter signed by his Harbor City colleagues expressing their appreciation to the SPD for Wu’s “tremendous service.” companies to report problems to the authorities”.

Community activist Susan Lee Woo also wrote a letter on behalf of the Chinatown community and the Seattle Chinatown Block Watch, of which she is the founder. She cited Wu’s work ethic, passion and commitment to building a relationship between the SPD and the community.

Both letters highlighted Wu’s language skills to help build trust, bridge the gap.

Wu is back on the CID beat. “That’s where my heart is,” Wu said.

Becky can be reached at [email protected]

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