This is the second part of two stories to introduce Westminster P.D.’s two newly tapped public information officers dedicated to serving the community of Little Saigon. We meet Billy Le, a longtime police explorer and volunteer of the police department, who also happens to be a well-liked figure in Little Saigon. He’ll be working alongside Police Cpl. Phuong Pham to help improve relations with the city’s thriving Vietnamese enclave.
Earlier this year, a Westminster police officer arrived to the home of an elderly resident. The officer was responding to repeated calls of a loose dog from the home and wanted to speak to the owner about keeping the dog safe.
The resident, who was Vietnamese – took one look through her peephole, saw the officer in a black jacket over his uniform – and refused to open the door.
So Billy Le, a longtime police explorer and volunteer with the Westminster Police Department, was called to the scene.
“She definitely was smart in not opening the door to someone she didn’t know, but I had to let her know in Vietnamese to not be afraid, that it was a police officer on her doorstep and that it was OK to open the door,” said Le, 28.
It’s a common scene Le encounters in the Little Saigon community: Vietnamese senior citizens who are unsure of how to interact with police officers due to language barriers.
In his new role as a community liaison for the police department, Le said he hopes to be able to help the department better interact with its large population of Vietnamese residents.
“Billy is so plugged into the Little Saigon community that it made perfect sense to tap him as one of our public information officers,” said Westminster Police Chief Kevin Baker. He’s got a stellar reputation in the Vietnamese community – everybody already knows him and trusts him.”
Le was born in Saigon, Vietnam but moved to Westminster when he was 8 years old. He attended Westminster High School, where he got his first taste of law enforcement in his ROP class. That’s where he first learned about the Police Explorer’s program at Westminster P.D. and signed up, along with four of his classmates.
He was just 17 years old when he was put on decoy missions for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and posed as an underage person trying to buy alcohol at various liquor stores and markets. For Youth Government Day during his senior year in high school, he got to shadow a Westminster P.D. watch commander on duty, who was then-Lieutenant Kevin Baker. Le then also got to act as the watch commander during a mock city council meeting.
Since then, Le spent more than 15 hours a month volunteering at the police department and learned about police training and tactics and various law enforcement issues. He loved it so much he even drafted his younger brother, Ken, into the police explorer program.
In 2011, Le served as president of the Union of the Vietnamese Student Associations of Southern California (UVSA), a non-profit, youth-oriented organization established to provide a united voice for Vietnamese youth, with student members from high schools and colleges throughout Southern California. UVSA is also responsible for organizing the largest annual Tet Festival in the U.S.
Ultimately, Le realized what he was really doing, through both his roles at the police department and Vietnamese student group: helping to build a sense of community. It was while he was the president of UVSA from 2011-2013 that Le really honed his communication skills and rapport with the Vietnamese community. Parents were always reaching out to him mentor their kids and he obliged whenever possible.
“I feel really confident I can win over any Vietnamese senior’s heart,” said Le, smiling.
These days, Le assists the police department with various outreach issues, whether it be passing out fliers to notify business owners and residents that Part I crimes have decreased significantly in Little Saigon, to helping the department find new ways to recruit Vietnamese-American officers.
Le said he’s seen a steady rise in elderly Vietnamese who have been victims of assorted scams.
Recently, there was a case where an elderly woman was scammed out of more than $2,500 of cash and jewelry. The suspected thief had befriended the victim at a local beauty shop and went to the victim’s house and reportedly stole money and jewelry from the home before convincing the victim to write her a check for a $2,000 loan of sorts.
“The incident happened in December but the victim didn’t report it until now because she was scared and was embarrassed and didn’t know what she was supposed to do,” said Le. “She’s been living in fear since that the suspect is going to return since she knows her home address now.
“I told her not to feel bad, that this unfortunately is common and happens to a lot of good people who get preyed upon by these scammers.”
When Le is out in the community, he frequently gets asked questions about police matters.
“I get asked all kinds of questions – people ask me what amount qualifies as grand theft now, to where the DUI checkpoints are going to be, to what kind of police jobs are available in the department, especially what kind of police jobs are available where they don’t have to carry a gun,” said Le.
Le said he’s happy to be the go-between.
“I just want people to know that they can come to me with any questions or police-related issues,” said Le. “I feel like everything is coming together, that all my experiences are enabling me to better help the Vietnamese community, the police department and Westminster residents.”