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For week ended January 30, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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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 this state."

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 Lagos.

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 and misconceptions.

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 to me."

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 myself."

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 intervention."

"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 to us."

"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 excited."


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