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News | April 15, 2016

Our Diversity: Role model, not ethnicity, important to police chief

By Almendra Carpizo The Record [Stockton, California]

[Republished with permission.]

Chuepheng Lo didn’t set out to make history, but he has.

Lo was named chief of police of the Defense Logistics Agency San Joaquin Police Department, becoming the first person of Hmong descent to be at the helm of a law enforcement department in the United States.

During a badging ceremony Wednesday, Lo said he didn’t pay attention to his ethnicity while pursuing his goals; he just wanted to become a good role model. He wanted to make a positive impact in the lives of young people, just like he had experienced growing up.

He said his father’s lessons also were the influence he’s carried throughout life. His father emphasized getting an education, but also to use that education to return to your community and give back, and to “never forget where you come from,” he said.

“I’m continuing on that road,” he told The Record. “I’ve served my country in the military and now it’s time to serve the community.”

Lo was born in Somtong, Laos, and immigrated to the U.S. as a Hmong refugee of the Vietnam War when he was 7 years old.

Being named chief of police is an accomplishment Lo said he could not have imagined “some 40 years ago, when as a refugee boy of the Vietnam War I boarded an airplane in Thailand for Kansas. I didn’t have to click my heels. I just boarded an airplane for Kansas with nothing but the American dream.”

Lo, a Stagg High School graduate, will oversee a department of approximately 65 people based out of the Defense Logistics Agency’s installation in Tracy. The 47-year-old has been in law enforcement for 24 years, including as an operations major at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and deputy chief of police at Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach Detachment in Fallbrook, where he served prior to his appointment as chief in February. He also served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army.

The ceremony attracted dozens of community members and dignitaries from across the region and out of state. Law enforcement members from all of San Joaquin County’s agencies were present, as were sheriff’s officers, police and fire departments from Merced and Fresno, and other federal and state agencies.

A representative for Steve Ly, vice mayor of Elk Grove, presented Lo with a resolution during the ceremony to acknowledge the milestone and Lo’s service to public safety.

About a dozen members of the statewide Hmong Law Enforcement Association and its color guard also were in attendance.

Association President Xa Yang, a deputy with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, said although the organization is not focusing on the fact that Lo is the first Hmong to serve as police chief, it makes him proud as an Asian-American.

It’s wonderful to see Asian-Americans who have overcome obstacles and adapted “living the dream,” he said.

Lo said he was surprised and humbled by the outpouring of support from family, friends and the community, who he said contributed to making him the person he is today.

“I need to make one thing very clear: today is not about me,” Lo said during his speech. “Today is about each of you. You see, I would not be standing up here today, if it were not for you. Somewhere along my journey from Laos to Tracy, California, you said something, something that sparked my imagination, influenced my decisions or did something that made me a police chief today.”

Helen Lo, 46, said she is proud of her husband and credits his dedication and work through his career for his achievement.

“We took a long way to get here,” she said.

Chuepheng Lo said he vows to not let the community down and to be the best person he can be, which ultimately has been what propels him to succeed.

And he said, “To the younger generation: it is possible for a young poor immigrant to get an education, serve your country and then be able to be blessed and come back home to the community and give back.”