Bakersfield PD’s first Vietnamese police officer breaks cultural and language barriers


For as long as Nghia Duong could remember, his grandmother would tell him to “grow up and become a doctor.” Or an engineer, maybe a computer scientist.

But Duong, 27, who moved to Bakersfield from south Vietnam when he was 16, knew living in America also meant he faced abundant opportunities. And while his traditional family wanted him to follow a traditional Asian American path, Duong had different dreams — dreams that involved helping people as a police officer.

“I came to Bakersfield in 2011 and went to Centennial High School as a junior. I had always known I wanted to be a police officer, but I didn’t speak enough English. When I went to Bakersfield College, I decided to go into Computer Science. That way I could hide behind a computer and not have to worry about not knowing English,” Duong said. “But the longer I was here, the more I interacted with people, and I thought maybe I am good enough now to become a police officer.”

Duong changed his major to Criminal Justice at Bakersfield College, and then earned his bachelor’s degree at California State University, Bakersfield in Administrative Justice.

He was on his way to become a police officer, but he yet to tell his family.

“My family all freaked out,” he said. “No one in our family has ever become a police officer. I was the first one in my family to want to do this, and they freaked out because they felt it was so dangerous. But when I got in the academy and graduated, they were all there and happy for me.”

The United States Census Bureau concluded the population in Bakersfield as of 2021 is 403,455, with 7.3 percent being Asian American and 0.2 percent Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. The Hispanic population makes up 51 percent and White is 61 percent, according to statistics from the Census.

Duong says there is a Vietnamese community in Bakersfield, a small one that continues to grow, and one he hopes to get to know.

“There are many Vietnamese here in Bakersfield, but everyone quietly lives in their community. I am trying to work on connecting with them by coming around and letting them know I am here,” Duong said.  “I think it helps people to see how diverse Bakersfield PD is, it encourages people from the Asian community to join, because they can see everyone is accepted. I also try to talk my friends in the Vietnamese community into becoming police officers.”

Before Duong joined Bakersfield PD, he researched the demographics of the department and found it had a handful of Chinese, Korean and Punjabi officers, but there weren’t Vietnamese, he made it his goal to become their first, and he succeeded.

Duong has been a police officer for two years at Bakersfield PD and enjoys patrolling the streets and getting to know the community and its residents. His long-term goal is to join the department’s IMPACT unit, which specializes in working with Bakersfield’s homeless population.

This is what he envisioned for himself when he dreamt of becoming a police officer and helping people.

He’s happy he decided to take the road less traveled.

“When Vietnamese come to America, we are raised by our parents who tell us that if we want to have a better life, we should become a doctor or an engineer,” Duong said. “But I say follow your dreams, follow your heart. If you want to do something than just go for it.”