Volume 16 • Issue 46 | April 9 - 15, 2004

Working with Chinatown’s precinct commanders

By Tien-Shun Lee

In his basement office inside the ancient headquarters of Chinatown’s Fifth Precinct, Shuck Seid, 78, pulled out a small piece of paper from his wallet and squinted his eyes to read a neatly typed list of the 23 Fifth Precinct commanders who he has worked with since he started volunteering with the police unit in 1969.

“Let’s see… in 1974, it was Captain Edward McCabe,” said Seid, a native of southern China who moved to Chinatown in 1940 after serving in the U.S. Army for two years. “In those days, there were not very many bilinguals, so they would call me all the time and say, ‘Mr. Seid, will you come down? We need a translator.’ ”

The language barrier between police officers and Chinatown residents was one of the main reasons that Seid and his friend Henry Chang, a former instructor for Taiwan’s police academy, volunteered to start an auxiliary police unit in 1969 to supplement the regular Fifth Precinct officers.

“When I started the auxiliary unit, there was only one Chinese police officer in the precinct,” Seid explained. “In Chinatown, there were robberies, rapes, all kinds of crimes happening to immigrants, and the Chinese didn’t want to be witnesses or to report things to the police.”

Seid and Chang recruited 11 other volunteers and spent their own money to buy uniforms, equipment and walkie-talkies. They went through a 12-week training program during which an N.Y.P.D. officer taught them about self-defense, how to patrol their neighborhoods in groups of two or three and what to do if something happens.

Today, the Fifth Precinct’s auxiliary unit is one of the largest in the city, with 143 members. Aside from patrolling neighborhoods, many auxiliary police officers, or “A.P.’s,” also work for the Chinatown Project, an organization created by Seid in 1975 to help Chinese residents file complaints, to help interpret for regular police officers and to help with routine police work, such as fingerprinting and filling out complaint reports.

“The A.P.’s are my bread and butter,” said Seid proudly. “I have an auxiliary who was a captain in Hong Kong. I have auxiliaries that became regular [police officers].”

All 143 auxiliary officers, except for one, are Chinese.

Thirty years ago, gangs formed by Cantonese youths were a big problem, Seid recalled. Members of Chinese gangs such as the Ghost Shadows and the Flying Dragons were often unhappy in school because they were picked upon by classmates for speaking poor English. They skipped school, worked for illegal gambling houses and got into violent fights.

One of the most famous crimes while Seid has been at the precinct happened in 1977 under the tenure of former Fifth Precinct commander Allen Hoehl. On a hot summer day, M.B. Lee, a former president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, one of the oldest Chinese organizations in the country, was stabbed but not killed by a gangster nicknamed “Ah Gnao” (The Cow) on the second floor of a restaurant at 42 Mott St. Seid helped out during the investigation as a translator and as an expert on the Chinese community.

The gangster was later caught in California while trying to cross over the U.S. border into Canada. He served seven years in prison and was then deported back to Hong Kong. “Gangs were real bad back then,” said Seid. “To this day we don’t know why he tried to kill him. We guess it’s because M.B. Lee was very much against the gangs.”

These days, Seid spends over 30 hours per week working with his auxiliary officers, running the Chinatown Project and going to police and community events such as auxiliary training classes and Chinese New Year’s celebrations.

Seid has two children and five grandchildren. His youngest son died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Besides doing police work, Seid also helps out in his wife’s family’s gift shop on Mott St.

“There’s a Chinese saying — for many people, if you ask them to pull out one hair to help the world, they won’t do it,” said Seid. “You’ve got to like helping people. You go to school to study, to write 1,000 words, but if you don’t help people, what good is that?”


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