Oakland Cops Who Once Spoke No English Help Bridge Divide Between Immigrant Communities

KCBS Special Report: Black and Blue - The Great Divide

KCBS_740OAKLAND (KCBS) — Over the weekend, Palm Springs became the latest city to mourn the deaths of two officers fatally shot by a man who allegedly said he wanted to kill police. With officers now targets of an anti-police movement, nothing is routine anymore for local law enforcement.

Part two of KCBS’ special series, Black & Blue – The Great Divide puts a spotlight on two Oakland cops and the unusual path they took to wearing the badge.

In the shadow of the overhead BART tracks in Oakland’s Jingletown arts community, there’s a police soccer camp being coached by two Oakland police officers.

Neither spoke English as a child. Sam Tith came from Cambodia when he was 14. Francisco Romero was six years old when he came to the U.S. from Mexico.

Tith was living in Los Angeles and had never seen kids making out in public on a bus. His ogling caused him to miss his stop one day and he got lost. With 25 cents in his pocket, he called home and was told either find a taxi or a cop.  He found a cop.

“He took me home … He gave me a free ride home,” said Tith. “I said, ‘what kind of a taxi driver is that, he had a badge and gun.’ And, my brother said, ‘Yeah, that’s a police officer.’ And I said, ‘cool, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.”

Romero recalled the effect of being in the country illegally. “I remember as a little kid, my mom would drop me off with some family, and before the sun came up we were on the move through the mountains, through the desert to avoid immigration,” said Romero. “I remember that someone would say, ‘Immigration’s coming,’ and we would just dive into the bushes to hide.”

That experience gives Romero a unique perspective when dealing with kids in Oakland’s Latino neighborhoods.

Tith, who has five children of his own, commutes 160 miles roundtrip from the Central Valley because he knows Oakland needs him.


More from Holly Quan

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