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Officer follows dream, joins the force

Written By vibykhmer on Monday, July 13, 2009 | 11:12 AM

Tonney Neouv stands outside the Lexington Police Department on Friday. Neouv, who is Cambodian, is the first Asian police officer to join the force.

Like many middle-schoolers, Tonney Neouv admired the adventurous life of fighting crime as a badge-wearing “man in blue.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Neouv actually followed through with his dream and recently finished training as an officer for the Lexington Police Department.

After a four-year detour to the U.S. Marine Corps following his 2003 graduation from Central Davidson High School, Neouv decided the time was finally right to enroll in the Basic Law Enforcement Training Program at Davidson County Community College. He graduated from the program last December.

“The wait was well worth it,” the 24-year-old said of his longtime dream.

Now with months of field training under his belt, he is excited to start work as a full-fledged police officer. And police administrators are happy to have him. To them, Neouv represents many things for the Lexington department.

Particularly, Neouv is a testament to the success of the police department’s Junior Explorer Program, which operates in conjunction with the Boy Scouts to target middle and high school youths interested in learning the basics of law enforcement. Participants receive the chance to ride along with select officers on routine calls to observe how traffic stops are made and what to look for when conducting an investigation.

Neouv joined the program when he was in the eighth grade.

“I got a letter from the police department, so I decided to act on it and got in,” he said. “From then on I was in the Explorer program, from eighth grade until the end of high school. I just always wanted to be a police officer.”

Chief John Lollis said Neouv’s application for employment stood out because of his time as a Junior Explorer.

“We’re real excited to have Tonney because he started in our Explorer program,” he said, adding that he has enjoyed seeing Neouv gain experience and confidence.

“Anytime we have an officer that starts in our Explorer program and comes back to be an officer, that’s a success to us,” said Capt. Tad Kepley.

Though reluctant to identify himself as unique, Neouv also represents an important milestone for the Lexington police force. He is the first person of Asian decent to work as an officer there.

Neouv’s family moved to the U.S. from Cambodia in the early 1960s.

“He’s just got a wonderful personality,” Lollis said. “And we think it’ll create some inroads with the community and with some of the Asian people in Lexington. We also think he’ll be a good role model for teenagers.”

Kepley said it is important to establish trust as a police officer, and people are more likely to trust someone who looks like them and understands their culture.

But Neouv, who prefers a modest approach to his accomplishments, said he had never considered himself as different in that way.

“We all wear blue,” he said.

Neouv joined the Marine Corps right after high school because he was two years shy of the age limit to become a police officer. He agreed with Kepley that the discipline he learned there will serve him well as an officer.

“A lot of their structure seems to be very similar to what our structure is about, and that makes someone like Tonney attractive to us. It makes a real good fit,” Kepley said. “He represents what our police officers are all about, and that’s professionalism.”

Three weeks ago Neouv took his first call on his own as an officer: a larceny of money out of a wallet.

“There’s not really anything I don’t like about it,” he said of those first couple weeks. “I plan on being here for a while.”

Ryan Jones can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 227, or ryan.jones@the-dispatch.com.


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