MUNROE FALLS — Ramesh Rai grew up fearing police officers.
Now he is one.
“I’m 22 years old and I have so long a history,” said the immigrant from the Himalayan country of Nepal, now an American citizen.
Rai was sworn in as a reserve police officer at City Council’s Feb. 12 meeting. It’s a volunteer position, but Rai graduated from the University of Akron Police Academy in May 2018, making him eligible to go beyond his current position.
Police Chief Jerry Hughes said officers just starting out with the department and their careers often begin as reserve officers, then move up as paid part-timers and then to full-time status, provided they stay around long enough and don’t leave for a full-time position elsewhere before then.
“I’m actually hoping to see him to part-time quickly, but we have to have the opening,” he said.
In the meantime, Rai is getting a start in policing, learning the job.
“He has to get broken in with the cruisers, the layout of the streets, and get to know the community,” Hughes said.
But Hughes said Rai has already proven useful in serving as a bridge, including as a translator, to the city’s growing Nepalese community that is scattered around Munroe Falls.
“I don’t know that we can say it’s large, but there’s enough of an impact here that I want to serve the Nepalis and build that trust,” Hughes said.
Trust is an issue. Rai said many immigrants from Nepal have little of it for the police in this country because of experiences with police they had in their native land.
“I want to build a relationship between the police department and the Nepalese community,” he said.
Rai’s “long history” began in Bhutan, a neighboring country to Nepal where his parents are from, before he was born. In 1992, Rai’s parents were forced out of the their native country because Hindus like them, as well as Christians, were not welcome in the predominantly Buddhist country. They then settled in a refugee camp over the border in Nepal, where their younger son was born and would spend the first 16 years of his life.
Rai described life there as “tough.”
“Very hard to live,” Rai said. “Where you don’t get enough to eat, a good house to live, and there wasn’t a good education. I had a school, but it wasn’t a good one.”
Those forced out of Bhutan, like his parents, already had bad experiences with the police before they even arrived at the camp since it had been Bhutanese police, along with the army, that forced them to leave. Police in the camp hardly were an improvement, Rai said.
“They used to beat us, swing these sticks, like a baton, at us for no reason,” he said, adding that violating a curfew was one of the things that could bring the wrath of the police down.
“We were not allowed to go out of our house after 8 p.m. in the refugee camp and if we did go out after 8 p.m., they used to punish us,” he said. “That was my experience with Nepal police.”
In 2012, when he was 16, he, his parents and a younger sister emigrated to the United States, with an older brother following a couple of years later. Their move was with the help of an organization called the International Organization for Migration, which provides aid to displaced persons. Some migrants opted to go to Canada or Australia, but Rai’s parent wanted to go to the United States. The family lived initially in Cuyahoga Falls, where Rai attended Cuyahoga Falls High School during his freshman and sophomore years.
He brought with him his fear, cultivated throughout his life, of the police.
“I was scared to talk to police officers when I was new here,” he said.
But that soon began to change when one morning, while walking to school with friends during his freshman year, a Cuyahoga Falls police officer sitting in a cruiser made a simple gesture, one that might have been routine for the officer, but was profound for Rai: The officer waved.
“That would not have happened in Nepal, wave at us,” he said. “So I approached him, talked to him, and he seemed very friendly and nice and that’s when I realized police were different here.”
Rai’s family moved to Akron when he was about 18, where he still lives with his parents and sister. His brother also lives in Akron and he has childhood friends from the refugee camp who also settled in Akron.
Rai graduated from North High School in 2016 and works as a home health care aide. In the meantime, he researched policing and decided that someone like him could be useful to his community.
“I want to let them know police are here to serve and protect them, not to harm them, not to harass them,” he said.
Hughes said when interviewing candidates for a reserve officer position, Rai “stood out.”
“This is a guy we really need for our community,” he said. “I’m excited for his future in law enforcement. I see a lot of leadership potential.”
He said he is particularly impressed with how far Rai has come in just six years, from a refugee camp to an immigrant who spoke little English to a naturalized citizen who speaks English well to police academy graduate.
“To go from that to this in such a short amount of time is amazing. He’s an outstanding young man,” Hughes said.
Mayor James Armstrong said he is pleased with the hiring of Rai and said it is an example of overall staffing at the police department.
“I’m just pleased with the quality of all the officers and the candidates who are applying,” he said. “I’m proud of the people we have applying.”
Rai said he hopes to at some point work full time for the city’s police department, though he knows he’ll have to be patient.
“Since this is a small department, that will take time,” said Rai, adding, “It’s an honor to work for the Munroe Falls Police Department.”
He feels he offers something not only to the Nepalese community in the city, but to his fellow police officers, as well.
“I hope my presence here in this department helps the other officers know our community,” he said.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.