‘It Takes A Village’ to Keep Students Safe, Says MUSD’s New Police Chief

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

Linh Dinh has been named chief of Montebello Unified School District’s 102-person police department, making him one of the first Vietnamese Americans in California to reach this rank.

The 15-year veteran of law enforcement will be sworn in during a ceremony at today’s school board meeting.

Dinh, 37, has been with the district for seven years, and has been serving as the temporary police chief since December. Former district superintendent Edward Velasquez previously served as the district’s police chief.

He will lead an organization of 40 sworn officers, 60 campus security officers, and two non-sworn staff in the third largest school district in Los Angeles County.

Dinh was born in Vietnam and came to the United States as an infant with his parents as refugees following the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. He and his family lived in Iowa and Ohio before moving to Los Angeles in the 1980s.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in biogeography from UCLA. Prior to becoming a police officer, he had plans to go into environmental science or natural resource protection. He became interested in law enforcement while working in a resource protection job.

“This is truly a great police department,” Dinh said. “I’m excited to be here and ready to continue to serve the Montebello Unified School District community.”

MUSD police oversee the security of 30,000 students at the district’s 33 schools.

“Right now my priority is the sustainability of the program that we’ve created,” he said.

A grant funded department reorganization in 2005 allowed the department to “bring on personnel and create community based programs and education,” he said.

As a police department, they also have access to law enforcement grants. They are currently funded by the Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant, the Readiness and Emergency Management For Schools grant, as well as a federal Secure Our Schools grant.

The grants have also allowed the district to hire a probation officer who handles about 25 cases. Dinh says 92 percent of the students in the officer’s caseload graduate from high school or are released from probation.

Linh Dinh, left, is MUSD’s newly appointed police chief.He will be sworn in Thursday night.

A police officer is assigned to each high school, he said. “We build a rapport with students at these schools, so we actually get a lot of intel and information … We act as mentors, as a helping hand or someone to listen to. [The students] have that connection on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Dinh says efforts made by other MUSD departments have also contributed to student safety improvements in recent years. “I think it does take a village… as a district we’ve been able to work together with the police department through physical and mental health programs.”

He credits a 95 percent attendance rate and an 11 percent decrease in the expulsion rate during the last two years as also making a difference. “It’s hard to pinpoint any one cause [for these results], but obviously it’s the intervention of the attendance folks, and the mental and the physical health programs from the counselors, psychologists and administrators. The police department gives the tough love sometimes, as far as attendance, discipline and not repeating the same mistakes,” he said.

He says school police and attendance staff work together to improve attendance. “Sometimes it takes an arrest, a truancy citation, to drive the point home with students and parents that it is the responsibility of the child to go to school, and the responsibility of the parent to get their child to school,” he said.

MUSD runs a truancy detention center in Bell Gardens, where a credentialed teacher supervises truant or suspended students. “This is part of our effort to make sure kids go to school to get an education. The truancy center takes in students we find out on the streets loitering or ditching schools … rather than suspending students and having them sit at home, oftentimes without supervision, we’re offering the truancy center, and nine times out of ten parents are pleased with the result,” he said.

The department also runs a Police Explorer program for students interested in a career in law enforcement. Dinh says there is a similar program in the works, called Navigators, that is targeted toward at-risk students, especially students on probation. “It instills the same values, such as team building and responsibility and service to others,” he said.

“This District is fortunate to have such a qualified Chief lead our police department,” Board of Education President Hector Chacon said. “His experience and dynamic leadership will certainly build upon the successes of the past and take the department to the next level.”

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April 19, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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