When 19-year-old Xue Mei Tan announced to her parents that she wanted to become a police officer in her native Beijing, their response was swift and firm. They were delighted! And this coming from two professional doctors.
Centennial College student Xue Mei Tan provided security at many Beijing events while employed by the police force between 1995 and 2002. Now she's studying in Toronto to learn Western-style law enforcement and investigation.
"My parents were thrilled with my career choice," says Tan. "It's a very respected profession in China."
Today, Tan lives in Toronto and is studying North American law enforcement techniques at Centennial College. Tan, now 32, has a unique opportunity to compare Western-style policing with the training she received in China.
"I find the officers here are very well trained, very professional. Criminology originated in Western society, and we learned a lot from American sources," Tan says. Her intro- duction to forensics and DNA testing, for example, came courtesy of professors visiting from the University of Michigan.
As a young police cadet, Tan had begun her training at the Criminal Policing Institute of China, earning a four-year bachelor degree in law -- a misnomer. Her education did not prepare her to become a lawyer, but gave her specific knowledge in law enforcement and criminal investigation, her major.
"I learned to conduct crime-scene investigations, including fingerprint identification. I also received firearm training, boxing and driving skills," recalls Tan. But with the added bonus of learning English, Tan increasingly began to be assigned to the diplomatic corps in Beijing after her graduation in 1995.
"China needs officers who can speak English, due to the large number of embassies and conferences in Beijing," Tan says. She proved to be an adept ambassador for the police, and worked security at the city's many international events.
She enjoyed a stellar career in the capital, and moved up the police ranks quickly. But her husband was transferred to North America with his company and Tan had little choice but to go. The small family (they have a young son) immigrated and arrived in Toronto two years ago.
"I like to face new challenges," she says, smiling politely. Her husband, a former police officer himself, encouraged Tan to pursue her career in their adopted country. "But I felt ill-prepared to write the OACP (Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police) test because of my English skills."
So Tan enrolled in Centennial's English for Academic Purposes program to upgrade her verbal and written skills. It was there that she discovered the college's two-year Police Foundations program.
Centennial's Police Foundations program provides training in law enforcement techniques, leadership, ethics and community policing principles, designed to prepare students to write the OACP exam successfully.
The program is presented in a "high discipline" environment, where students are required to wear uniforms and participate in routine inspections and drills.
Program field placements provide a minimum of 40 hours of community service and 40 hours of community policing.
For more information, visit www.centennialcollege.ca/applied/police.
"I really enjoy the program. To be a police officer, it's essential to learn about Canadian society and how it functions," says Tan, who finds Ontario court proceedings particularly interesting. "The criminal justice system is different in China."
From what she has seen, Tan says Torontonians and Canadians enjoy a very low crime rate, and that even break-and-enters are treated seriously by the police here. "Theft is very common in China, and the homicide rate is higher, especially in some provinces where the policing is not so good."
When she graduates from the program next year, Tan will write the provincial OACP test and likely be accepted by a police department. She will gain additional training in firearm use and other specific skills at the Ontario Police College, to augment the Criminal Code knowledge, psychology and sociology she studied at Centennial.
Tan realizes she will have to spend the first five years on the force as a patrol officer, honing her "essential competencies," before she can specialize and become a criminal investigator. She welcomes the opportunity.
"I know I have to learn about the culture, the people and the city before I can become an investigator."
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