Hsiao Loo, an immigrant from Taiwan, was a lieutenant in the New York Police Department when he had a chance at promotion but no desire to take the captain's test. His mentor, Chief Thomas Chan, convinced him otherwise.
After passing the exam, Loo was recently promoted to deputy inspector, and now he wants to do for other Asian Americans what Chan did for him.
Loo is president of the Asian American Police Executives Council, a group formed in November that aims to boost the number of high-ranking Asian Americans in the NYPD, while providing them with mentorship and leadership building.
“Just the fact that he called me and reached out to me and was there to encourage me,” Loo said of Chan and his decision to take the test for promotion.
For officers ranked captain or above, Asian Americans placed last in representation at 5 percent, followed by blacks at 10 percent and Hispanics at 13 percent, according to The City. The remainder — 72 percent — were white. Census figures show that around 14 percent of New Yorkers identify as Asian, 24 percent black, 29 Hispanic and 32 percent white.
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In the NYPD, Asian Americans account for one chief, one deputy chief, two inspectors, four deputy inspectors and 36 captains, the department told NBC News in an email.
“When you don’t see people like you in those positions, you kind of feel like you don’t belong there,” Loo said.
Unlike some racial and ethnic groups in the NYPD, Asian Americans often join the force as first-generation police officers, said Hugh H. Mo, who was a NYPD deputy commissioner during the 1980s and is now the council’s advisory board chairman. They might lack any family legacy or an embedded police culture, and the council hopes to bridge those gaps, he said.
The idea for the group originated earlier this year at the department's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration, where Mo says he saw something after the ceremony that made him do a double-take — around a half-dozen captains in uniform who were Asian American.
That was more than in years past.
“I walked over to them and I said, ‘Are you guys kidding me?’” he recalled. He went on to help found group this fall.
That’s where Mo believes the Asian American Police Executives Council can help.
Mo said the council will encourage young Asian American officers to take promotional exams, teach them how to grow within the department and establish a robust mentorship program based on the NYPD’s hierarchy.
And while Asian American parents have traditionally discouraged their children from joining the police force or military, that mindset may be shifting.
Mo said he sees this in the NYPD with Chinese Americans, owing in part to the benefits and job security of civil service work, along with the meritocracy of rising through the ranks through promotional exams.
As for the Asian American Police Executives Council, Mo said it has the full support of the police commissioner and other high-ranking officers.
“We feel the department will only be better by promoting diversity across the board based on merit,” he said.
Chris Fuchs is a freelance journalist based in New York. His articles have appeared in Foreign Policy and the Taipei Times and in Chinese on ETToday.net, a popular Taiwanese news website.