Growing up in Cambodia, Soonem Teng’s family fled their home several times to escape raids by the Khmer Rouge.
That experience helped point Teng toward a career in law enforcement. On Thursday, he was among 16 new officers sworn in by the Metro Transit Police Department.
“As a kid, I always wanted someone to step up and help,” Teng said. “Now I want to be that person for others.”
Teng’s experience was not uncommon among his peers. Several of the department’s new officers grew up during warfare in faraway lands, became refugees and were befriended at some point by police officers.
In addition to Teng, who speaks Cambodian, the new group includes officers who speak Burmese, Chinese, Somali, Spanish, American Sign Language and Igbo, a West African language.
Ahmed Dualeh was born in Somalia while the country was in the throes of a civil war, an experience that led him to see police as peace keepers. Dualeh’s outlook has also been formed by his time at a Ramsey County Corrections Officer.
As a police officer, he hopes to be a positive force before troubles mount. “I can talk to younger people and help them by being a role model,” he said.
The prospect of becoming a role model also appeals to Peter Wameng Yang, who is fluent in Hmong. “Becoming a role model to the Hmong population and teaching the community about the Hmong culture is a goal I set many years ago,” he said. “I am getting a step closer.”
The new group of officers also includes former security guards, volunteer police reservists, military veterans and Community Service Officers.
The department gained its first sibling duo, too. Kevin McCabe’s older brother, Pat McCabe, has been with the department since 2014.
With the additional officers, the Metro Transit Police Department now has 101 full-time officers and 59 part-time officers. The new group was brought in partly to support the C Line, a Bus Rapid Transit service replacing Route 19 in 2019.
Before Thursday’s swearing in ceremony, the recruits completed the department’s custom, 10-week academy and spent another four months working alongside field training officers.
Metro Transit police officers can respond to calls from throughout the seven-county region but primarily focus on patrolling the transit network.