Trying for diversity, Quincy’s police force still fall short

As a community outreach effort, members of the Quincy Police Department teach a self-defense class at the Sons of Italy organization in Quincy. Gina Mazzulli practiced what she’s learned by kicking at pads held by police Lieutenant Dan Minton.
John Wilcox for The Boston Globe
As a community outreach effort, members of the Quincy Police Department teach a self-defense class at the Sons of Italy organization in Quincy. Gina Mazzulli practiced what she’s learned by kicking at pads held by police Lieutenant Dan Minton.

QUINCY — All around this city, in libraries, grocery stores, restaurants, and the downtown YMCA, diversity is evident.

You won’t see it in the Police Department, however.

Nearly a third of people who live here — 31 percent — were born in another country, and the city has a large, vibrant Asian community whose members make up about 28 percent of its population of 93,688, according to US Census estimates from 2016.


But there are just five Asian police officers — four officers and a sergeant — among the department’s 214 sworn personnel, according to information provided by Quincy police through an open records request.

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Just one officer is Hispanic, and one is black, each representing a half-percent of the sworn officers in the department. The city’s population is 5 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic, according to American Community Survey estimates from 2016.

Of the department’s officers, 91.6 percent are male.

“The goal for any community is to have a police force that mirrors the community in which that police force operates,” said Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston. In Quincy, “the disparity is dramatic, to say the least.”

A number of Asian community members say they appreciate outreach efforts by Quincy police. They also say they don’t perceive friction between Asian residents and the department.


But community leaders and law enforcement specialists suggest that more Asian officers would benefit both the department and the city. A more diverse force could encourage recent immigrants and minorities to approach police if they’ve witnessed a crime or have other tips, and more Asian officers are needed to help overcome potential linguistic and cultural barriers, the specialists say.

“They’re really hesitant to approach the police,” said Frank Poon, who has worked with Quincy’s Asian community for years in various capacities. “If there is any other solution that they can find, they will approach the other solution. The police are the very last resource.”

Watanabe said large immigrant populations, especially ones with non-English speakers, benefit from police departments that have officers who understand their background. “It’s to the betterment of the citizenry and the police force to doing their job well,” he said.

Mayor Thomas Koch said the city has tried to address the disparity from time to time, noting that potential employment in the Police Department is open to all.

“Anybody can take the civil service exam,” he said.


Koch said a recent effort to hire more female officers was rebuffed by state civil service officials, who do not have to grant requests to hire from a list of job candidates with a specific skill set. In an effort to better communicate with all residents, the city has hired more bilingual speakers at City Hall and in the libraries, he said.

Police Chief Paul Keenan said that he would like to see more Asian officers in his department, but that civil service hiring rules give preference to disabled veterans, and there are few Asian veterans.

Getting into the part of the list that is nonveteran is “very, very difficult,” he said.

Keenan said his department has done much outreach and has good relations with the Asian community. It has officers who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, or Vietnamese, and subscribes to a 24-hour telephone interpreter service for the times those officers are not available, he said.

“The reports I get back, they’re all positive,” he said.

The leader of one of the city’s leading Asian organizations said that people are very familiar with Quincy’s Asian police officers, and that overall the department’s personnel are friendly and approachable.

“They’re a very good partner for us,” said Philip Chong, chief executive of Quincy Asian Resources Inc., a nonprofit that works with many immigrants.

Indeed, relations seem to have improved since 2006, when four Asian-Americans were arrested and prosecuted after an encounter with State and local police on Hancock Street.

Keenan said that the incident was “way overblown by the people involved,” and that it was “one isolated incident that wasn’t racially driven from our end.”

But those who were arrested felt differently.

“I always felt, I think, race played a part in the incident,” said Karen Chen in a recent interview. Chen said she was pepper-sprayed by police during the incident, in which she was found not guilty of disorderly conduct but guilty of resisting arrest. She said she was attacked by police officers, while a police report stated she acted “violently.”

The trauma from her arrest and prosecution stayed with her for a long time, triggering feelings of hopelessness, she said.

The case of the “Quincy Four” drew protests at Quincy City Hall by Asian-Americans and calls for independent investigations. Since then, there has been no similar incident, and though Asian representation in the department remains very low, the number of Asian officers has doubled.

A positive development since is the election of local Asians to public office, including state Representative Tackey Chan and City Councilors Nina Liang and Noel DiBona.

Their election means that if Quincy’s Asians have problems with the police, there are now people in government they can approach, said Andrew Leong, an associate professor at University of Massachusetts Boston and a lawyer who was involved with, but did not represent any of the defendants in, the “Quincy Four” case.

In order to have greater representation of Asians in the department, the city must work on recruiting more people from the Asian community, and Asians must pursue careers in law enforcement, community leaders and specialists say.

Giles Li, executive director of the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, which has a location in North Quincy, said Asians don’t pursue careers in law enforcement for a variety of reasons, including viewing police work as dangerous.

“I think in order to increase the number of Asian police officers, it will take an investment from the city, from the police force, from the public schools,” Li said, adding that families must be engaged. “It’s not just one thing.”

At any rate, increasing diversity needs to be a priority of major public institutions, he said.

In some cases, immigrant communities don’t know how to pursue civil service jobs, or they come from countries where law enforcement is not a desired career.

City Councilor Brian Palmucci, chairman of the council’s public safety committee, said that recruitment of Asian officers has not come up much in discussions.

“We would certainly want a police department reflective of the diversity of our community,” he said.

Leong said people in communities of color often don’t have access points to hiring systems, and in many cities, knowing the right people can be the key to attaining municipal jobs. Asians must be encouraged to apply, but cities must also be open to hiring a diverse workforce, he said.

Chan, who has represented Quincy on Beacon Hill since 2011, said he hasn’t heard complaints about police from his constituents. But people who have had problems could be reluctant to discuss them, he said.

“As a public policy, we should hire more women and minorities, period,” he said.

Jill Terreri Ramos can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jillterreri.