Summarized by Joyce Feustel
LDS Police Officer's Journey from Nigeria
Salt Lake Tribune 25Jan00 P2
By Greg Burton: Salt Lake Tribune
SANDY, UTAH -- As a boy in Lagos, Nigeria -- thousands of miles away
from this mountainside city -- Chukwuemeka Chukwurah could not ignore
the crime in the streets surrounding his home, and as a man in Utah, he
will not let himself ignore it.
"Emeka," as he is called, is Utah's newest African-American police
officer, joining a small pool of black officers in uniform around the
state, was sworn in last month, one of 26 graduates from the inaugural
class of the Police Corps academy.
"In Nigeria, the crime and poverty were related," he says. "You wouldn't
have as much of one without the other. I don't get the same sense here,
although I still have a lot to learn."
Sidney Groll, director of Utah's police academy said, "What Police Corps
does is allow some very active recruitment so we can get a few
individuals that can offset the minority and gender issues we have in
Chukwurah, 24, is the only black officer in Sandy and one of an
estimated 20 African-American officers in the state. He also is among a
small number of minority officers of any kind who work in Utah.
Minorities comprise 11 % of Utah's 2 million population and an estimated
8 percent of sworn officers.
Still, Chukwurah, a graduate of Brigham Young University and son of a
member of the LDS Church's Third Quorum of the Seventy, is uniquely at
home in Utah and the United States. He was born near Chicago when his
parents were studying at Illinois State University, and is a U.S.
citizen. His father, Christopher Chukwurah, converted to The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1982, served as director of the
church's educational outreach in Nigeria and later of its mission in
In 1992, the father took Emeka, then 17 and fresh out of high school, to
Provo where Christopher trained for the mission post at the Missionary
Training Center. Emeka's first visit to Utah was an amalgam of delights
He says. "Everybody thought I could play basketball, but I couldn't and
I felt different from everyone else; not just because I was black, but
because I spoke a different kind of English. And what American kids took
for granted -- clothes and cars -- were comparatively speaking, foreign
As his father trained for mission work, Chukwurah stayed for college,
first entering Ricks College, in Rexburg, Idaho, and then transferring
to BYU. In 1994, he left on a two-year mission for the LDS Church in
Johannesburg, South Africa, a country emerging from decades of ethnic
strife and he says. "It was a great experience. It taught me a lot about
Nearing graduation from BYU, Chukwurah began saving money to pay his way
his way through Utah's police academy. A week before an admission cutoff
date, he learned of the Police Corps program and over the next seven
days, completed a month's worth of testing and paperwork.
"How I did that is still a mystery," he said. "Most of the records I
needed were clear over in Africa. It must have been divine
"The same divine hand was at work almost two decades ago when the family
began a path to religious conversation during seasonal fasting in
Nigeria. These were our traditional fasts, a family tradition, when
following a prayer we were called," Christopher Chukwurah said from his
home in Lagos. "It is the simple story and one that has meant everything
"There is probably a lot more pressure on Emeka than on Caucasian
officers coming in," said Officer Victor Quezada, who broke through
Utah's ethnic barriers as a rookie officer 13 years ago. Quezada is
leading Chukwurah through a 90-day field training for new officers.
"There will always be that question: 'Is he a token?' But the bottom
line is, "Can he do the job,'" Quezada says. "It doesn't matter what
flavor you are, it's how you perform."
Last week, on Chukwurah's first patrol through Sandy's tree-lined
streets, the rookie carefully negotiated a routine traffic stop which
turned an arrest for outstanding warrants as Quezada watched from a safe
distance and saying afterwards. "It was intense, just like any new cop.
He put those handcuffs on with authority."
Chukwurah, cautious but considerate with most answers, admits to being a
tad nervous. "It was exciting out on the street," he explained. "I was