The Orange County Sheriff's Office launched their Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) liaison program in February. It is a new initiative that officials say will help bridge a gap between law enforcement and the AAPI community in Central Florida.

What You Need To Know

  • OCSO launched their Asian American Pacific Islander liaison program in February

  • The organization is dedicated to helping law enforcement learn more about those in the community

  • Local citizens say they hope that the program, and others like it, will increase trust in minority communities

The liaison program is a task force with members who represents a variety of backgrounds and speak several languages, ranging from Vietnamese to Cantonese.

Each deputy has said they had distinctive reasons for joining the team. Deputy James Chan, whose parents are from China, said he believes that the program does good work that builds trust.

“It’s very close knit, so building that trust so they can see we can help them is the first barrier to break," he said. "I’m proud to be part of that process."

Modeled after the Sheriff's Office LGBTQ liaison program, and encouraged by a local NAACP chapter, department officials said the team looks to address cultural and/or translation barriers.

Members of the office also hopes to make law enforcement more visible at events, like May's heritage month celebration in Orange County.

It's an idea that University of Central Florida student Ayan Desai applauds. He said he only wishes it was a part of his experience when he was growing up in Okeechobee in southern Florida.

“(There are) not many Indians in Okeechobee — not many Indian officers in Okeechobee — so it’s kind of hard to establish a connection with them," Desai told Spectrum News. "And when you get pulled over by a white cop, you get scared (about) how they might react to you."

While Desai said he never feared for his own personal safety, and had a great support system at home, he faced microagressions in school from elementary through graduation. 

He said it would be as simple as whipping out his lunch, typically leftovers from his family's Indian meal the night before, to darting eyes and whispers from his peers — "It looks disgusting," he recalls hearing.

Later, when Desai was driving to school one day, he described being pulled over for a minor infraction. His parents shrugged the encounter away.

"When my parents were emigrating, they can't really rock the boat," he said. "That's how it worked for a lot of immigrant parents — our generation right now is very much, 'We need to stand up and do things to make the change.'"

The search for greater diversity and inclusion drew him to UCF, where Desai dedicated his studies to biochemistry, and his spare time to practicing assorted instruments like the French horn and mellophone. He joined the school's band, the Marching Knights, straight away in his freshmen year.

But, after attending a vigil last year for the Atlanta spa shootings — where eight people were killed, six of them Asian Americans — Desai said he joined a cause that was perhaps even more impactful: the Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC).

“It reminds me how much I want to make an impact," he said, re-watching the emotional on-campus vigil, during which students banded together in solidarity against Asian hate. 

No one incident in Central Florida spawned the local AAPI movement, nor vigils, said Desai and others.

The same is true for the creation of the Orange County Sheriff's Office task force, Chief John Mina said.

Yet, Desai, ever the optimist, said that it's about improvement and visibility. In fact, he said he's now running for president of APAC.

“One of the things we want to see is more 'hirement' of Asian Americans within law enforcement," he said. "We know that if there are more people that look like us, more people trained on diversity inclusion, (we'll see) less issues that we're currently seeing in the news today. 

"Change won't happen until people in the community realize we're going to be here we are staying ... there's always work to be done."

According to information from the department, of the more than 1,600 full-time, sworn law enforcement officers at the Orange County Sheriff's Office, 28 identify as Asian American or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.