By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
Officer Young Choe, the first Korean-speaking policeman at the 111th Precinct, has been on the job for only a month, but his presence has already made an impact on a precinct with a booming Korean population.
“I feel like I’m a celebrity or something,” said the 32-year-old Seoul native, who has gotten attention from both Korean local media and from the Asian community at large, who welcomed him at a joint meeting of the 111th and 109th precincts Feb. 13.
Choe, who has lived with his parents in Flushing for the past 10 years, graduated from the police academy last month and was snapped up by the 111th Precinct for his ability to communicate with local Koreans.
“I’m very glad to get here, (knowing) that I can help someone,” said Choe about his hiring.
Lt. Dan Heffernan, special operations lieutenant for the precinct, said “it’s going to help tremendously.”
Heffernan said Korean bars and restaurants constituted the largest group of new businesses opening up in the 111th Precinct’s coverage area, which includes Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck and part of Auburndale.
Capt. Julio Ordonez, the precinct’s commander, said at the Feb. 13 meeting that Asians make up 26 percent of the population living in the 111th, although it was unclear how many were Korean.
“With the new businesses, I’m not sure I’m getting through to them,” said Heffernan of his attempts to talk to Korean business owners about basic laws on underage drinking and other issues.
Before Choe was hired, the precinct would sometimes call the neighboring 109th Precinct, which has some Korean-speaking officers, for translation help.
“It’s a lot nicer to have someone here to interpret,” said Heffernan.
In one day, Choe had processed five reports from Koreans on everything from lost property to car accidents.
He said police corruption in Korea and the force’s intimidating presence in that country have led Koreans here to react to local police with fear.
“They still think the police are very strong characters with a strong attitude,” said Choe about the older Korean emigres. “You try to show them that not all police are like that.”
Prior to becoming a police officer, Choe owned a cell phone store in Flushing, studied business management at SUNY Old Westbury, and served in the U.S. Army for three years in a supply unit, spending one of those years on a base in Korea.
While working in Yonkers, he heard about the fulfilling aspects of police work from some officers and decided to give it a try.
Choe said his parents were initially concerned about the relatively low pay and long hours of his new career, but that he had won them over.
“I persuaded them that I could help someone who doesn’t speak English,” said Choe, who added that he would recommend a law enforcement career to his fellow Koreans.
“I feel very proud right now as a rookie police officer,” he said.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.