As Howard County's Asian community continues to grow, the police department is set to add an Asian liaison officer in the coming months in an effort to match its resources to the changing demographics.
Howard's Asian population grew to an estimated 18.3 percent of county residents in 2016, compared to 14.4 percent in 2010, according to U.S. census data. The county's Korean population in particular makes up a sizable portion of that population at nearly 30 percent, according to 2010 census data.
Funding for the new position was approved July 1 as part of the fiscal 2018 county operating budget.
The liaison officer will be responsible for developing programs, community policing, training activities and crime prevention efforts specifically related to the needs of the county's Asian population, according to Howard County Police Department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.
The position is a full-time post with a salary of $53,804, according to Howard County spokesman Mark Miller.
It joins an existing multicultural liaison position in the department, which was first implemented in 2007, according to Llewellyn. The department also has a senior citizen liaison officer, youth liaison officer and mental health liaison officer.
Howard County is not the first in the area to add more outreach liaisons. Montgomery County government has several community liaison positions, with specific positions for the interfaith community, African and Caribbean communities, African-American community, Asian and Middle Eastern community and Latino community. Unlike Howard County, the positions are part of Montgomery's Office of Community Partnerships, not its police department.
Baltimore County's police department has a multicultural relations program with one multicultural liaison officer. The county's executive office also has its own multicultural liaison position.
In the Howard County Police Department's budget request for the position, which was written by Police Chief Gary Gardner and the department's community outreach division, the department specifically mentioned its partnership with the Korean Society of Maryland and that the department has been "proactively reaching out to the Korean community to further foster a strong relationship." County Executive Allan Kittleman also mentioned in his budget letter how the officer will work specifically with the county's Korean community to build trust.
Jenny Baik, the multicultural director for the Korean Society of Maryland, said that one of the major aspects of their partnership is to help facilitate communication between Korean residents, particularly first generation individuals who may have limited English-speaking skills, and public safety officials. Baik said she would like to see this new position work to break down language and cultural barriers even more.
"An incident occurs, and what might be normal to us might not seem normal to the police department," she said.
The budget request for the position also includes mention of the importance of breaking down language and communication barriers that can be problematic.
However, Llewellyn said that foreign language skills are not necessary for consideration for the position. She also said that ethnicity would not be taken into consideration for the position, and that all candidates would be considered equally.
Steve Jang, who immigrated to the United States from Korea 10 years ago, said that he believes the officer hired for the position "absolutely needs to be fluent" in an Asian language. Jang, senior vice president of the Korean Society of Maryland, said that for many first generation individuals like himself, a bilingual officer could be greatly beneficial in helping to ease anxieties about contacting the police department.
John Liao, a candidate for the Howard County Council's District 2 seat, said that he supports the creation of the position, and that it has the potential to help break down language barriers as well as educate community members on the role of police in their lives.
Liao, who is Chinese, said he thinks it would be most beneficial if the future officer was either of Asian descent or had "extensive experience" in Asian culture, such as being married to someone in the Asian community or having lived in an Asian-speaking country for an extended period of time.
"They would like to know 'what can I expect from the police, how much can they help me,'" he said.