“My Role is More Important Than a Badge”

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“It’s to protect the people with the right given by the people.”

Sometimes, easier questions are more difficult to answer. Responding becomes tougher when one is not certain about the task at hand.
When asked what it is like to be a police officer, his answer was short and precise.

He is Don Byeon, 54, who overcame cancer 11 years ago to become a lieutenant at the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

Last month, Byeon was promoted as a lieutenant. In military terms, a lieutenant is a position just before one becomes a commander. Statistics show that 385 of the 9,973 lieutenants at the LAPD are executives. An LAPD lieutenant is a part of the top 4 percent.

Byeon spoke to the Korean Daily in 2006 after he finished chemotherapy.
The Korea Daily met with him for the first time in 11 years.

-Your promotion is a good news for the Korean community.
“Thank you. I took my test in 2015 and have been waiting for my opportunity. Captain Darnell Davenport at the Southwest Community Police Station offered me to work with him, thankfully. Aug. 6 was my first day on the new job.”

-Your previous role as an internal investigator.
“I volunteered to take on that job. I was a 20-year veteran at the time, but I only had years of experience without much experience as a manager. I was an internal investigator for four years. I learned how to see the bigger picture there.”

-Internal investigators are known as cops who bust cops.
“The role of an internal investigator is to train and educate police officers more so than investigating their corrupt actions. It’s not much different from a journalist. We write reports based on the facts that are presented to us about various accusations.”

-How does it feel to report to work now as a lieutenant?
“I’ve been a police officer for 24 years. Oddly enough, the first police station I started work in 1994 after I became a police officer was also the Southwest Community Police Station. On my first day as a lieutenant, I told the entry level officers that I also started just like them. I mindset has always been to never lose my initial aspirations.”

-What is a lieutenant’s main duty?
“It’s to lead the police officers who work in our district. There are about 200 of them. I assign them with roles and manage them. Another task is to build a relationship with the local community.”

-Where exactly is your district?
“It’s an area where there are many large scale events as we have USC and the Coliseum in our district. It’s also where Martin Luther King Boulevard is. It’s a symbolic location for the African-American community.”

-What kind of boss would you like to be?
“I’ve had a longstanding mindset to never levy responsibility on my subordinates. I’m not going to assert my authority to ask them to bring me coffee.”

-What is the biggest issue the LAPD is dealing with at the moment?
“The priority is to prevent crimes. That’s why the growing homeless population and the legalization of marijuana are problematic.”

-Why are more people homeless nowadays?
“It’s a combination of many reasons, including political, social and economic factors. The government released a large number of criminals as prisons were getting overpopulated. The housing crisis has also contributed to putting people on the streets. We also don’t provide sufficient treatment or care facilities for people who are mentally ill.”

-Marijuana’s legalization is also concerning.
“To share my personal opinion, it’s problematic that the use of marijuana could lead to criminal behavior, but I’m more worried that it could lead to breaking apart the standard of our societal ethics.”

-Are you dreaming of putting on a star badge?
“I still have a long way to go. I’m grateful for the role I have now. I’m going to continue to work hard consistently.

By Koohyun Chung