Ethnic minorities boon for police force

Updated: 2017-11-17 08:45

(HK Edition)

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A Filipino officer tells Wang Yuke how his background, including his knowledge of Tagalog, aided his mission of helping others through his police work.

The Pakistani shopkeeper had been burgled but he didn't know what to do; he couldn't speak enough Cantonese to explain to police what had happened - until a Pakistani officer showed up on a routine monthly patrol.

Victims with ethnic minority backgrounds often are at a loss giving information to police when reporting crimes. They're more candid with officers of similar ethnic minority background. That's why officers of different national backgrounds are critical to policing Hong Kong.

Constable Hung Ka-wai, in recalling the story, said it had been two months before police even heard about the burglary at the shop. By then, it would have been difficult to track down the culprit. Police advised the man to install better security in his shop.

Ethnic minorities boon for police force

Policing for the 6 percent

"We have police of various ethnic minority origins at almost every district, especially where there are large ethnic minority populations. The demand (for ethnic minority police) is apparent, considering there're nearly 460,000 ethnic minority people living in the city (constituting over 6 percent of the population)," remarked Hung.

There are no specific records revealing the number of people from ethnic minorities in the civil service. The Civil Service Bureau can draw only a general picture, based on face to face contact during recruitment. Based on that information they say that over the past five years, about 50 ethnic minority job applicants were offered appointments to the police force; a further 10 were appointed as Assistant Officer II in the Correctional Services Department.

Helping hand

Dean Jason Escuro's family comes from the Philippines. He joined the Hong Kong Police Force a couple of years ago, when he was 23. He's handled emergencies from robbery and theft to violent domestic abuse and suicide. "I have been passionate about helping people in need since I was a boy. That's part of the reason I wanted to be a police officer," said Escuro, an otherwise reserved young man who becomes quite talkative when speaking about his passion for police work. He was still in secondary school when he joined the police training program. He was intrigued after his introduction, and so entered the Hong Kong Police College after graduating from high school. Escuro thinks his ethnic minority identity is an advantage at work.

Stand out at work

He had been in the force for less than a week when he was called to a family dispute. "A woman called in, in panic. She screamed, 'My husband hit mehe scolded me and then beat meI need help," he recalled. The woman was a Filipina and her husband was born in Hong Kong. Escuro responded with his partner. The apartment looked like a disaster area, with furniture overturned and strewn all over.

The husband demanded to know who called the police, recalled Escuro. The female victim was locked in her room but came out when she heard the police arrive. She begged them for help. The officers separated the couple. The partner tried to calm down the male assailant while Escuro talked to the Filipina, who was trembling uncontrollably. She could barely communicate in English. Escuro started speaking in their native tongue of Tagalog, and then was able to piece together what was happening.

"Speaking in her mother tongue, she seemed more comfortable." She told Escuro what was going on. Her husband accused her of going shopping and wasting all his money. She denied it - but her husband wasn't having any of her denials, he said he was going to beat her - maybe kill her. That's when she ran into the bedroom and called 999.

It was not abnormal for Escuro as a police officer of ethnic minority.

He constantly receives calls from fellow officers to help with tricky situations. For some reason he's able to understand people from different minority groups that his colleagues can't.

Once, he was in the reporting room when an emergency call came from a woman who spoke with a strong Indian accent. Escuro's fellow officer couldn't understand what the woman was trying to say and handed the phone to Escuro, who received the message right away.

The woman was in a panic. Her daughter was missing and the mother had become almost incoherent when she called 999. "From her voice I could tell she had calmed down a lot shortly after I asked her a few details and gave her instructions on what to do next." Escuro listened to the mother's explanation. Her daughter hadn't come home after school, Escuro invited the mother to accompany him in the patrol car, visited the daughter's usual hangouts. Finally the girl turned up safe - at her mother's friend's house.

Seeds of police dream

But a police dream was not built in one day.

Escuro received a lot of teasing about dark skin in primary school and felt helpless to do anything about it. He thinks the experience gave him empathy and compassion for others. "Probably because of the unpleasant experience in school, I would feel sorry for people when I saw them in trouble and wanted to help out," said Escuro. Even before joining the force he would try to help people who couldn't speak the language and didn't know how to report to the police. He became the translator for victims who couldn't speak Cantonese or English.

Escuro decided to join the force after participating in the Junior Police Call program designed to encourage local youngsters to become crime fighters, working hand in hand with police. The program offers physical training, volunteer opportunities, leadership courses, camping and hiking to young people between nine and 25. Escuro said he liked the outdoors anyway and always wanted adventure. The police training helped him build physical strength but solidified his ambition to become a police officer. As he reached the senior level of his training, he became a mentor of younger members, especially in treacherous environments, and night hikes. When team members were injured in the camp, he was usually the first one to come out and perform first aid.

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(HK Edition 11/17/2017 page7)