San Jose Police Department graduated it's first-ever Vietnamese-speaking Citizens' Academy Wednesday, making it the first city in the nation to have such an outreach program with the Vietnamese community.
Vietnamese-speaking officers led the 10-week academy, teaching the entire course in the native tongue. The 33 graduates learned everything from police ethics and firearms safety to laws of arrest and officer policies as part of the course.
The SJPD's relationship with the city's large Vietnamese community has been a strained one in recent years. Residents have criticized the department and have been wary because of incidents like the one in 2009, when an officer shot and killed Daniel Pham in his back yard. Pham, who was mentally ill, had slashed his brother's throat in their Berryessa home before he was shot.
Then there was the incdent in September 2009, in which four San Jose officers beat Vietnamese San Jose State University student Phuong Ho. The incident, which was captured in a grainy cell phone video, shows police officers repeatedly hitting Ho with batons and a Taser gun. The incident prompted a criminal probe into the officers' conduct.
But San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis says those incidents were not the driving force behind the course.
"It's really been a two-way street," Davis said at Wednesday's graduation, "we've learned a lot from them and they've learned a lot from us."
The course was modeled after the successful Spanish-speaking Citizens' Academy
San Jose is home to the largest Vietnamese population in the U.S., according to the 2008 U.S. Census report.