By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
About 500 people wished former LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara well at his retirement dinner on April 18 at The Castaway in Burbank.
Since joining the force in 1980, Hara has served in a variety of posts, from motor officer and narcotics officer to head of the Bomb Squad and the Training Division, eventually becoming the highest-ranking Asian American in the department.
Outside the restaurant, mementos of Hara’s career were on display — his 2007 Harley Davidson police motorcycle and several vintage patrol cars, including one from the 1970s TV series “Adam 12,” which inspired him to become a police officer.
Hara’s involvement in the Asian American community was reflected in the evening’s program, which included performances by Johnny Mori, George Abe and Danny Yamamoto of Kinnara Taiko; the Jung Im Lee Korean Dance Academy from Koreatown; and a trio from Azuma Kotobuki Kai dancing to the English version of “Sukiyaki,” sung by Miko Shudo.
Actress Tamlyn Tomita said she was honored to serve as emcee, noting that her late father, Sgt. Shiro Tomita, graduated from the academy in 1963 and retired in 1986. She thanked all the law enforcement personnel in the room for “serving our communities.”
Tomita led the audience in toasting Hara with a shout of “Banzai!” and read a congratulatory letter from former Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki.
The LAPD also provided entertainment, with its Emerald Society Pipes and Drums playing “Minstrel Boy,” “Wearing of the Green,” and “Rakes of Mallow.”
Rev. Mark Nakagawa of Centenary United Methodist Church gave the invocation, thanking Hara for “serving this city faithfully, honorably, compassionately and with great grace and justice throughout his distinguished career” and his family for “allowing him to serve this city, giving up their time with their husband and father so that we can all go about our business each day in security and safety and confidence.”
“Let us continue to honor Chief Hara’s legacy by living as just and faithful citizens of this great city,” Nakagawa added.
Speeches were kept to a minimum, but proclamations from President Obama, Gov. Jerry Brown, Mayor Eric Garcetti and many other elected officials were displayed. Following a video on Hara’s career, special presentations were made by organizations that he has helped over the years.
Japan America Society of Southern California President Doug Erber said, “We were blessed to have Terry serve as our chairman. He just finished his two-year service.”
Erber was joined by JASSC Chairman Joe Portillo and past chairpersons Nancy Woo Hiromoto and Russell Hanlin in presenting Handa and his wife Gayle with a day at the Disney Grand Hotel and Spa.
Award from Fellow Officers
Representing the National Asian American Law Enforcement Commanders and National Asian Peace Officers Association were Brian Johnson, police chief designate of Upland; Rudy Tai, president of NAALEC and a San Diego police captain; Wayne Kitade from the Elk Grove (Sacramento County) Police Department; and Jimmy Yang from the St. Paul, Minn. Police Department.
Noting that NAPOA represents over 8,000 members nationwide, Tai said, “Terry has always been a mentor to all of us … He’s had such great impact on a number of people, including myself, and we want to bestow the greatest award that we can provide.”
The award was a samurai sword. Tai explained, “We look at a samurai as a person that’s loyal, dedicated and committed.”
A “blue diamond” multi-badge display was presented by an old friend, Gerald Fukui of Fukui Mortuary, on behalf of “everyone here for Terry always protecting us when he’s on watch … and also for his dedicated leadership in the community.”
Tomita explained, “Each badge is the original badge worn by Chief Hara representing all of the civil service ranks he has attained while on the L.A. Police Department. Each badge has been polished by hand to its original condition and then meticulously and carefully placed in Lucite in a floating blue presentation design that is not only one of a kind but brings out the brilliant chrome and the polished brass artwork of each individual badge for all to enjoy.”
Fukui joked that Hara’s very first badge, which he wore as a playground monitor, is not included.
A shadowbox was presented by representatives of the LAPD Olympic Boosters Association Foundation, including Chang Lee, Brad Lee and Officer Marlon Magana, for helping to make Koreatown a safer place to live and work.
Tomita described the shadowbox’s contents: “All of Chief Hara’s rank insignia and medals, cap pieces bearing each civil service rank, City of L.A. service pins presented to each city employee after 10 years of service, and every accumulated five years of service thereafter … a city-issued service revolver, custom-designed police coin, shoulder patches, service stripes, brass whistle and chain, tie bar, and the Pelican LAPD flashlight that Chief Hara designed.”
A Son’s Memories
Mark Hara introduced his father by remembering what life was like in the Hara household: “It’s been a roller-coaster of a ride, not just for my father but for the family as well. As any law enforcement family knows, the job of a police officer is a demanding one … I would see him maybe once or twice a week. He would be at work in meetings all day, come home late at night when I’m sleeping, and at 2 or 3 a.m. he’d get called out for a bomb scare. And the incredible thing is after he came home from getting called out, he would go to work again before I even woke up for school. And this wasn’t once or twice, this was on a constant daily basis …
“This job can’t be turned off like a cop TV show. It’s more than just arrests, tickets and protests. It’s a part of your life, 24/7. When you see on the news that a gunman walks into the same station that your dad’s in charge of and sprays bullets everywhere, or when you see on the news that there’s a cop killer on the loose who’s shooting cops execution style on the street, there’s really no words to describe how you feel …
“But I think my dad also loved the fact that being a police officer allowed him to help people, going out into the community and interacting with them to come up with solutions to problems they’re facing. What I’ve learned from observing how my dad works is that crime isn’t lowered by forcing communities to obey every command. You can’t gain the trust from officers and community members by ruling with an iron fist. You know what it takes? Showing that you actually care. That you actually care about the family suffering from constant activity in the neighborhoods .. .about programs for youth development … about the ideas and contributions that every officer has to offer.
“That’s why my dad was able to work so hard all these years and make such an impact, because he truly cares about every person that he meets. So to my dad, thank you for putting your life on the line for 35 years and protecting our streets. Thank you for being a great father. Even with your long work hours, you still went to my baseball and basketball games, you still found a way to make it to my music concerts, and you still found a way to help me with my science fair projects.
“You once told me something that I’ll never forget, something that I’ve tried my whole life to live by. Everyone has something to offer you. No matter who they are, where they come from, how big or small they are, you can always learn something from them. And that’s the thing I love most about my dad. Yeah, I have a father who’s the highest-ranking Asian American in LAPD history. It’s pretty awesome. But the thing I like most, the thing I’m even more proud of, is how good of a man he is.”
A Life-Changing Experience
After receiving a standing ovation, Terry Hara said that his story “started with an individual when I was part of the Long Beach Explorer program. I learned about public service and a profession about giving and serving others. That gentleman … is still a Long Beach police officer who was the Explorer coordinator. We just celebrated his 50th year on the Long Beach Police Department and he’s still in the field, serving the public, and that’s Robert Schroeder.”
Stressing the importance of family support, Hara said, “I want to recognize an individual who has been by my side day in and day out … I’d like to recognize my wife Gayle for all the years that she has put up with my schedule. Gentlemen, we know who’s the boss. I admit it. But I will tell you this boss here is the reason why I am here today, and I want to thank her and tell her that I love her.”
Hara asked his wife to come up on stage and presented her with flowers.
He also thanked LAPD staff members Teresa Hadad and Denise Williams and others who were part of the event committee.
Calling the LAPD “one of the finest organizations in the nation,” Hara expressed pride in being “part of many changes over the last 35 years … to make this department a better department. Nothing’s ever perfect, and time and time again we’ve learned from our mistakes, but we also are … ensuring that we provide the best public service possible.”
Hara recalled that he never envisioned becoming deputy chief. “My dream was to become a first-line supervisor, a sergeant out in the field … and I achieved that. But what happened is as you start to promote within the organization, you start getting exposed to the next level and the next level and the next level after that. It just so happens that I was lucky, truly lucky to be in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the growth opportunities that this department has offered.”
Shortly after retiring on Jan. 31, Hara had a life-changing experience. “I suffered a stroke on Feb. 10, which caused me to land in Long Beach Memorial Hospital from Feb. 10 to Feb. 26. And I’m very, very lucky to be here tonight given the circumstance that I went through. I asked the doctor … ‘Was it a small one?’ He said, ‘No, it wasn’t.’
“But I have learned so much about strokes and what the body goes through and the rehabilitation that takes time and patience. The staff at Long Beach Memorial Hospital while I was under their care has been phenomenal … and I continue to receive treatment every week through rehabilitation program services.”
Two of his therapists from Long Beach Memorial were his guests at the dinner.
“For me, the priorities have changed,” Hara continued. “The priorities of being healthy and understanding that it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to want to do things and continue to help, and to give and to volunteer, but also you have to know when to say no … So as I continue to recover, I will continue to be involved in community work. That is my passion, to be around people, to be among friends and family … That’s my therapy for good health, and I’m truly blessed to know that God has given me a second chance of life again …
“On behalf of myself and my family, thank you for your friendship and support, and it’s been a wonderful 35 years.”
Hara introduced members of his family, including his daughter Kimberly and his 90-year-old mother, Yoneko.
The “end of watch” broadcast, an announcement made over police radio on Hara’s last working day, highlighting some of his most notable accomplishments, was played back. It was noted that he experienced “21 Jump Street” in real life, going undercover and posing as a high school student.
Special guests included:
News anchors Frank Buckley of KTLA and David Ono of ABC 7
Philip Chang, CEO/founder of Yogurtland
Former LAPD Deputy Chiefs Rick Dinse and Beatrice Girmala
Police Commissioners Sandra Figueroa-Villa and Paula Madison
Consul General of Japan Harry Horinouchi and his wife Sabine
Katsuya Takamiya, executive officer Mitsubishi Electric Corp.
Kin Hui, CEO of Singpoli Capital Corp., and his wife Ivy Leung-Hui, head of financial operations
Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and his wife Kathy
Toyo Tire Holdings of Americas President Tomo Mizutani
LAPD Assistant Chiefs Earl Paysinger, Sandy Jo MacArthur and Jorge Villegas
Robert Taylor, former LAPD commander and chief of probation for L.A. County
Thomas Wong of the State Controller’s Office
Former Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief David Yamahata
Former LAPD Assistant Chief David Gascon
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo (except where noted)