Behind badge: Officers bridge American Indian community with Bakersfield Police Department | Indian of the world
A few years after September 11, Sandeep Malhi was living in Long Beach, Calif., And was working as an intern with the Secret Service when he received a call from his parents who encouraged him to move home to become the first officer of the military. Punjabi police from the Bakersfield Police Department. .
Malhi, a Fresno State graduate with a degree in criminology, was finishing his masters and dreaming of working with the federal government – maybe even the FBI
But life after 9/11 had changed the atmosphere of the Southwestern American Indian community of Bakersfield, home to nearly 10,000 Sikhs. Malhi’s neighbors where he grew up were terrorized by hate crimes and thefts because of their turbans and long beards.
The community as a whole needed to be educated. Bakersfield police did their best to answer calls, but when they arrived at the scene, they often could not communicate with residents.
Malhi’s parents told him that if he really wanted to be a part of something and make a difference, he should come home and help the community.
“As a young Indian you are told to be a doctor, to become a lawyer – these are prestigious jobs,” Detective Malhi said. “But none of us have ever seen someone who looked like us in a police uniform and that’s so important to us. There aren’t many professions where you have the opportunity to provide selfless service to your community. We help our community every day. I am proud to be part of the noblest profession of all, that of law enforcement.
Nowadays, everyone in town knows Malhi and what he means to the Punjabi community.
In recent years he has been joined by Officers Charanjit Singh and Gurmanpreet Behar, each mentored and encouraged by Malhi, who seeks to create more opportunities for American Indians who wish to join the forces of the ‘order.
“Malhi and Singh have been very welcoming to me,” said Behar, who has worked in the department for about a year. “They were like older brothers, giving me their phone numbers, encouraging me at the academy. Now that I’m on patrol, I’m taking my time to get to know the Punjabi community and let them know I’m here. It was a humbling experience. “
Residents see the officers at their local temples, attend community events or on site on a call for service and when they hear them speaking Punjabi it is a game-changer.
“I knew when I became a police officer that I would be able to impact and affect Punjabi and Indian culture here in Bakersfield, but I didn’t know how much,” said Singh, 33. “But just being here able to explain the process… it’s very humbling that I can be a bridge between Punjabi culture and law enforcement. “
Singh always knew he wanted to be a police officer. He felt it was his calling. He took a few detours, moved to Texas, lived near Disneyland, worked in the trucking industry, and was a service manager in a bank. But he could never shake the idea of applying the law. He started the long, arduous process soon after 2011 and spent years jumping through different hoops and getting discouraged.
But in 2017 he filled out the application to join the Bakersfield Police Department and it all fell into place.
“I didn’t know how I would feel when I became a police officer, to see the looks on people’s faces when I started talking to them in their own language,” Singh said. “When people call us, they don’t always call us to the best of their lives. When I start talking to a Punjabi victim you can see that sigh of relief on her face and it’s very humbling when you see the expression on her face that says “hey, they’re one of us”. It’s awesome to watch.
Singh has followed in Malhi’s footsteps, who is an activist in the Punjabi community, by being a visible presence for residents. Singh speaks often in temples, has been a guest on an Indian radio show, and is recruiting for the Junior Police Academy to involve more children from the Indian community.
He can also be found wearing his blue and badges at events, as well as his Kara which symbolizes his commitment to his Sikh religion.
He speaks to everyone in the community as an “aunt” or “uncle,” and if there is a need for a service call to be translated, he is happy to deploy.
“I am very involved in my culture; I speak to the older community who are always happy to see me, ”Singh said. “People ask me all the time how I came to be a police officer. It’s not a typical job… but everyone is so proud to see us.
One of the ways Detective Malhi wanted to emphasize the importance of connecting with the Punjabi community was to change the Bakersfield Police Department’s policy on facial hair. Malhi and Singh both shaved their beards when they joined the force.
Malhi wrote a memorandum calling for a change in policy and the change was unanimously approved by the police department in 2019, allowing police officers to honor their culture and religion, and allowing them to be who they are.
“It never made sense to me that here we were trying to identify with our community and that we couldn’t keep our culture,” said Malhi. “We are grateful that the department was able to take the lead and it shows how Bakersfield PD supports and respects each other’s religious differences and the diversity of the community.”
While Malhi, Singh and Behar continue to be beacons for the Punjabi community, residents such as Raji Brar, founder of the Bakersfield Sikh Women’s Association, say their presence in the community has been essential in making residents feel finally heard.
“There is a huge language and cultural barrier and these agents help represent ourselves,” said Brar. “It’s good for the community to see them help – now we have a Punjabi detective and police officers they see on the streets and people are very proud of them. Now they can look at their sons and daughters and say “Hey you should do that too” because being a police officer – in India – is a laudable choice. People respect law and order.