Burmese refugee joins Lockport police

Arka Boh lived in Thailand for his first nine years before coming to America to live in Buffalo. Boh scored highly on the civil service test in Lockport and put himself through the Police Academy. If all should go well in the second phase of the hiring process, he will be a Lockport Police officer, the first Burmese-American to hold such a position in Niagara County. (Photography by Benjamin Joe)

Arka Boh is a 23-year old Burmese Muslim now living in Buffalo. About 15 years ago, Boh was living in Thailand in a refugee camp. Since then, he and his family, have assimilated into the American landscape, though there are still family members living in Thailand, including his older sister. He is the second youngest of seven siblings.

In 2019 Boh went back to Thailand to visit his family. He said it was hot, 90 to 100 degrees hot. He explained briefly that things are very different there, that a military genocide of his people had even spread into the refugee camp where he’d lived after fleeing Burma, also known as Myanmar, into Thailand.

In short, Boh has a past that many will never understand, but it is not the past that Boh is concerned about. It’s the future and his part in it

“I don’t know much about Lockport,” Boh said. “I just wanted to be a police officer.”

Boh, pending the success of the second phase of his interview, is the newest Lockport Police Department hire.

Boh said he was intimidated by the lack of diversity of the department, a long-time criticism of the local law enforcement agency, but was surprised to find a very welcoming, very friendly group of people. He said he intends to stay in Lockport for his entire career.

“They hired me,” he said. “They gave me the chance and I want to stay here.”

Boh said that in Burma, he’d never have become a police officer because he wasn’t, “real Burmese,” but was instead one of the very small minority of Muslim Burmese that lived in the same country and were persecuted. Also, other professions – such as being a doctor – were also out of reach because of his family’s lack of money. Even though he is now in America, Boh said he still doubts his worth.

“I still got that mindset,” he said and laughed. “I try to do my best, but at the same time, because I’m different, (I think) they might not help me.”

Boh said he wants to be the link between his people and the police. His people don’t know about the law and are often afraid of police, because of their experiences in refugee camps and the places they fled from before that, but now he can explain to them what is happening.

“Over here we do respect police officers very much, but we’re also scared a lot, because we do not know anything about them. We don’t know any law. We don’t know what will happen to us if we do something wrong,” he said.

“There was this one family that decided to discipline their children by hitting them and the dad that hit the kid, pretty much, got arrested and everybody started freaking out because they did not know what was going to happen to the dad,” Boh continued. “I was like, ‘I wish I could help, but I myself know nothing about the law,’ so it’s those kind of things that really motivate me.”

Boh said he’s ready to start the next part of his life.

“I am very excited,” he said. “I never knew I would become a police officer in America. This is a big thing for me."

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