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2008.041.001 Oral History Interview with Agnes Chan

In 1980, Agnes Chan graduated at the top of her Police Academy class and became the NYPD’s first Asian female officer. In this position, she sought to build bridges between the Asian community and the police department. Promoted to Detective rank in 1984, Chang served 20 years in the NYPD, including Chinatown’s 5th precinct. She retired in 2000. Chan initially went to John Jay College with the vision of going to law school but after an internship in Chinatown, she decided to join the police department, which at the time was looking to recruit more minority and Asian officers to work with the community. Despite numerous pressures to quit during training at the police academy, Chan persevered and became the first Asian female police officer at the New York City Police Department. Having grown up understanding traditional Chinese culture and values, she saw herself as uniquely equipped to work as an officer in the community. While other officers might interpret avoiding eye contact as a likely sign of deceit, Chan understood that in an Asian cultural context could simply signify fear or respect. While stationed in Spanish Harlem, Chan frequently perceived that people would look at her as a 5’2” Asian female officer and question what Chan could do for them. However, Chan responds that not all situations can be resolved by physical strength and the use of a weapon and require talking to people and having conversations. She asserts that most police officers are service-oriented and that the majority of them are there to help people and the community, often at their worst moment.