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US Police Department Uses Chinese Social Media to Reach Residents

A police department in a community near Los Angeles is using an unconventional tool to reach its residents. It is the first U.S. police department to open an account on the popular Chinese micro-blogging website, Weibo. The move is having a major impact on the community.

Running a restaurant means more than just serving quality food and looking after the finances for owner Xu Run Gang. It also means safety for his staff. For that he turns to the Alhambra Police Department’s page on the popular Chinese social media site Weibo.

“They often post how they patrol or we can ask them some safety questions. For example we get off work pretty late at night. They offer a free service to access the area around the restaurant to see if there are security concerns [advice on security issues]. It’s more safe," said Gang.

When the Alhambra Police Department opened an account on Weibo, late last year, it surprised many of the city's residents, including Wu Shuang.

“In the beginning I thought it was very unique because we are living in the U.S. and Weibo is a Chinese language social media, so an American official agency opening an account in a Chinese media, I feel it’s very very unique," said Shuang.

“The reason for that is to create a bridge for the community of communications between the Chinese-speaking community and our police department and make them aware of how we can help them," said Captain Clifford Mar.

Police Captain Clifford Mar says more than half of the city's 80,000 people Asian - most of them Chinese. But only 10 percent of the police department's staff is Asian. With a shortage of resources, he says, Weibo has become another tool to reach the Chinese community in its own language.

“Part of the Chinese culture is a closed society. They’re not in a sense outgoing and bringing problems out to the public, especially some other entity like a police department so a lot of crimes go unreported," he said.

But the police department's Weibo account has become more than just a place where Chinese residents can report and learn about local crimes. It is also where they can read about the latest road conditions, and ask questions that help new immigrants integrate into American life and culture says Wang XinYi, one of the department's volunteer translators.

“Our neighbors are arguing at night what should I do? Should I call? Will there be retaliation?" Asked XinYi.

Xu Run Gang says Alhambra police interact with the residents here, very differently than police in China.

“There is probably is some form of interaction but they are not as thoughtful as the American police. There are still a lot of bureaucratic issues in China. They don’t care. The police here care more," he said.

Alhambra police says other police departments are watching to see the impact and outcome of this Weibo experiment.