AMERICA'S TOUGHEST COP ALIVE
GS: Tell us a little about your background
AT: I grew up in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. That's a suburb of Newark, which is a real rough city, rougher than L.A. But Upper Montclair is a real nice middle-class suburb in northern New Jersey. It's a real pretty town.
GS: Were there any other Asians in your neighborhood?
AT: I don't remember any. When I was a kid, I was very cognizant of the fact that I was Asian, more so by other people's reactions toward me than my family life. My family was a mainstream family. My father is a full-blooded Chinese American and my mom is half-Irish and half-Japanese. My parents only spoke English. I was raised as a Catholic. We had no real contact, except during the holidays, with Asians of any sort.
GS: Do you recall much racism when you were growing up?
AT: When you're a kid the other kids tease you. At the time I didn't understand it and it probably put me in a shell. But I didn't experience any racism that I was aware of.
GS: What is your educational background?
AT: I went to college at Fordham University in the Bronx. After I graduated I was commissioned in the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant. I served at Camp Pendleton [near San Diego] as an infantry officer for three years. After I left the Marines I went back to New Jersey and took some graduate courses and also obtained my emergency medical technician rating and worked as a medic in Newark for about a year. But I decided it was too cold and I wasn't really going anywhere. In February 1990 I decided to come out here and become a police officer.
GS: What was your first impression of police work? Is it what you expected it to be?
AT: It was better. The first division that I worked at was Rampart, which is the busiest division in the city. That's where I did my rookie year. I loved it. I couldn't believe how busy we were. Being a police officer is the most challenging job I've ever had, and I've done a lot of stuff. You have to go from catching criminals one hour to helping a little old lady the next hour. It's very difficult. Only in the police department are you given the power to take someone's liberty away from them. I can do that at any time in the city of Los Angeles if I have a reason to. That's a lot of responsibility to give to a person and expect them to be perfect at all times. If they're not perfect or reasonably perfect, then they can go to jail. But it's very rewarding. The people I work with are the best.
GS: Do you think the media portray the LAPD unfairly?
AT: We don't get a lot of good press. People make a big fuss about police officers when they're dead, how they served their community and gave the ultimate sacrifice and all that stuff. And it's true, but 98% of the time people don't see police officers because we're dealing with the element that they don't want to deal with. The wife-beaters, child abusers, rapists, murderers. It happens every day. We see it all the time. I grew up the same way you did, you know, watching cartoons and going to church. But this is our job and we have to deal with that.
GS: With all the stuff that police officers have to put up with, why not do something else?
AT: A lot of guys do decide it's not worth it and switch to jobs that are less stressful and more financially rewarding. But others crave that stuff and love the excitement and stress. Very few people will ever know what it's like to drive "lights and siren" down a main boulevard chasing a car thief. I've done it. The job can be real fun.
GS: As a firearm instructor you don't get out on the streets any more.
AT: No, not right now. But I'll be out there again. For now I'm able to teach people how to properly use their weapons. Which is important, because a lot of people in the community are armed, and we're basically under-armed. There's a lot of fear in this city. People are afraid of everything. They're afraid of gang members and carjackers, but there's only so much we can do. Actually, we could do better, and lot better, if given the opportunity. In a lot of situations our hands are tied because of bureaucratic reasons. We can't do the police work we'd like to do. We don't have enough people; we don't have enough equipment. We're losing a lot of guys to better-paying departments. A friend of mine just went to Beverly Hills and got about a 15-20% raise. A lot of the smaller cities around here pay more than the LAPD. They don't get to say they work for the LAPD, but the bottom line is that when they buy a house, instead of a $180,000 house, they might be able to buy a $250,000 house. So we sacrifice a lot to work here.