By Kiet Do

SAN JOSE (KPIX) — San Jose police are, once again, back walking beats, as the department’s ranks have recovered from near historic lows and are now near full force.

The department is authorized for 1,159 officers with 1,130 of those positions filled. Of the filled positions, 950 are full duty with the remaining balance of officers off-duty for various reasons, such as injuries or medical leave, according to Capt. Elle Washburn.

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“These ‘walking beats’ allow for additional resources outside of the beat structure that allows these officers go into identified neighborhoods and really get out of the car and talk to people. Your basic tenets of community policing. It’s human engagement, it’s learning firsthand accounts, some of the problems that are happening in that neighborhood and creating opportunities for education and engagement with community members,” Capt. Washburn said.

For the first time in the city’s history, Little Saigon now has dedicated, bilingual, Vietnamese-speaking officers who are assigned to a stretch of Story Road between Highway 101 and Roberts Avenue. The three-member team, consisting of two patrol officers and a sergeant, will spend five hours per shift once a week and will focus primarily on the needs of businesses owners.

Historically, the businesses, mostly family- and immigrant-owned, have been weary and distrustful of law enforcement. And the walking beats are ramping up, against a backdrop of nationwide police reform.

“Certainly there is an evolution taking place within law-enforcement communities, it is accelerated right now,” Washburn said. “It’s the same in any relationship, right? You have to put something into that relationship. You have to be willing to listen and empathize with the other person … and sometimes make changes to yourself.”

Ngoc Do, an acupuncturist, was one of the organizers who worked with city officials to secure the walking beat officers for the area.

“The trust actually for the Vietnamese community and the police is a little bit broken because we don’t have the understanding for each other,” Do said. “So, step by step, block by block, we are rebuilding the trust. We cannot change everything, like, just after a night or something but this is a very important step.”

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“It’s an ongoing, everyday effort that we put up,” said Sgt. Doug Tran, who has been the walking beat officer in Little Saigon since 2018. Tran said public trust “goes up and down” over time but he is confident in his work.

“The Vietnamese community, probably does have more of an issue with that (trust). But, in the last two and a half, three years, we’ve been connecting with the community much better and, I think, like I said, it’s an ongoing effort. Every day we have to continue to do that … the more people we meet, the better it gets,” Tran said.

At King Egg Roll, just around the corner from a large homeless encampment on Felipe Avenue and Olinder Court, co-owner Jim Davis says the restaurant has been repeatedly targeted by burglars and vandals. Customers are often met with homeless people who sleep outside the front door or enter the business and cause disturbances.

Davis has often hesitated to call 911 for quality of life issues like public urination or mailbox theft and says having the walking beat officer’s cellphone has been invaluable.

“It’s great, actually, because it, it shows that they care. Sometimes you get the feeling that the city is just kind of blowing everybody off but having an actual point of contact that you know, it means something. It means that they are really trying,” Davis said.

Currently the city has budgeted $166,000 for each of the city’s four patrol divisions.

Councilmember Maya Esparza requested and received additional funding for officers dedicated to Little Saigon. Esparza said she was moved by reports of a recent homicide in her district.

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“The gentleman who lay dying on the street of a neighborhood he lived in — only one person called anonymously to report the shooting and so we need to have more trust and overcome fears of immigration and fears of federal government and all those fears to build those relationships. Because the community actually wants this,” Esparza explained. “They’re building a relationship. So, in little Saigon, they’re very excited to have the officers there and you really do it one neighborhood at a time.”