Thai Truong, a Vietnamese-Canadian inspector, was 10 when he watched the TV show Cops with his father.
Thai Truong started working for York Regional Police sixteen years ago, predominantly as a detective sergeant specializing in human trafficking. He recently got promoted from detective sergeant to inspector and is the youngest inspector the law enforcement organization has had.
I sat down with Thai in his office in Aurora, Ont., to find out how he became a police officer.
“I always knew I wanted to be a cop. Always,” he says. “My dad couldn’t speak English. He only spoke Vietnamese, but he watched Cops so I would watch with him.” Thai’s parents escaped Vietnam after the war and fled to a refugee camp in Thailand. He was born in the camp and eventually a church group sponsored his family to come to Canada.
Thai saw the excitement in police chases, going after bad guys and seeing the good guys win on screen when he watched Cops as a child. “It was a time where I bonded with my father. I was always close to my dad,” he remembers. Thai’s father died when he was 11 years old. Even though his dad did not understand or speak English well, he could still follow a show like Cops and enjoyed watching police officers chase criminals. Back then, Thai always wanted the good guys to win and he wanted to be a good guy when he grew up. “It was the classic ‘good versus evil,’” he says. He could see his father was also rooting for the good guys. Of course, he wanted to make his parents proud when he was older.
Thai started out as a criminology student at the University of Windsor, but ended up graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology. He also took several law courses. At university he became more critical of the police. Knowing what he knows now, he realizes he was uneducated about policing when he was a student. After being in the field for almost two decades, his views have changed a lot. “The information from the media we rely on is not always accurate,” he explains. In university, Thai believes he relied on media sources more than he should have.
The majority of Thai’s career has been to Investigate organized crime. For the last 10 years, his career has been focused on human trafficking. The majority of cases that his unit gets in Ontario are domestic sex trafficking cases. The victims and survivors of these cases are Canadian-born girls from various ethnic backgrounds. There are a lot of cases that are special to Thai in certain ways. In some cases, he feels the victim is hurt more than others. “You remember the cases where you do everything you can, but you don’t feel like you’re doing enough to help the girls and their families,” he says.
A lot of stress comes with policing. According to Thai, the stress varies with the investigations you work on, the units you work in and the people you work with. It has taken him a long time to deal with the challenges. “Depending on the day, I could be very explosive at work. I may be wouldn’t treat people as nicely as I normally would,” he remembers. “But being in this field has helped me learn a lot about myself and how to deal with the stressors that come with this lifestyle.”
The most challenging part of the inspector’s job is feeling helpless when he can’t positively change victims’ and survivors’ lives as much as he would like to. Eventually he had to overcome those challenges and make the changes necessary within the organization. “You don’t give up,” he says. “You adapt, and you overcome. You just figure out a way to do what’s right. It’s easy to walk away from difficult situations. It’s much harder to face them head on.”
Thai encourages any young person, regardless of nationality, but especially Vietnamese, to get into policing if they are looking for a meaningful career they will never get bored of. He believes police should represent the communities they serve. There’s a large Vietnamese community in the York region, but there are not many Vietnamese officers within the region at the moment. Because of that, Thai has had the opportunity to use his Vietnamese background to help investigate Vietnamese-based organized crime. He has an upper hand in dealing with these cases because he understands the culture. It’s easier for him to deal with Vietnamese people as accused and as victims. However, Thai says you can also be seen as an outsider in the Vietnamese community. In generational Vietnamese culture, policing hasn’t always been a career choice that Vietnamese parents push their kids to pursue in Canada. The negative history goes back to the communist regime in Vietnam. “Because you’re Vietnamese and you’re a police officer, that can act as a barrier depending on the investigation you’re doing,” he explains. “You can be looked at as a traitor since you’re investigating your own people.” Nonetheless, Thai says it doesn’t matter what nationality you are, if you’re breaking the law, you should be investigated.
Thai believes York Regional Police is the best police service across Canada. “Of course, I’m being biased when I say that,” he says while laughing. Thai thinks policing is an amazing career for someone who has integrity, wants excitement and wants to catch bad guys. Policing also has a lot of room for lateral advancement. “If you find a specific unit you’re passionate about in the field, then there are areas of expertise that you can work towards getting to,” he says. “It’s a challenging field and you use your brain a lot more than you use your muscles. The job is very demanding, but very rewarding.”
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