The immigrants should assimilate. A police officer is a police officer.


After 10 years in hotel management, Khaled Bahgat grew accustomed to defusing tense situations involving out-of-control banquet hall parties. Often, he had the situation in hand by the time police showed up.

One day, an officer asked, “Have you ever thought about being a police officer yourself?”

It was the farthest thing from the mind of the Egyptian-born Bahgat, who arrived in Columbus as a teenager in 1980 speaking almost no English. But he applied and has served as an officer in Ohio’s largest city for 21 years.

Recently, police chief Kim Jacobs appointed Bahgat a liaison officer between the department and the city’s growing immigrant populations, particularly people from Somalia and Bhutanese-Nepali refugees. Bahgat joins Columbus officers with outreach responsibilities to the black and gay communities.

“There has definitely been some areas where law enforcement doesn’t understand the culture, and likewise the culture doesn’t understand why we do the things that we do,” Bahgat told worshippers last month at Masjid Ibnu Taymiyah and Islamic Center, a mosque on Columbus’ north side serving mainly Somali immigrants.

Yet everyone shares the same goal, he said. “We want to make sure that we can offer everybody a safe neighborhood and we want to make sure that we’re all on the same page,” said Bahgat, dubbed the department’s New American Diversity and Inclusion Officer.[…]

In Columbus, Bahgat has his work cut out for him, especially with the Somali community. Residents are upset that two Somalis initially hired by the police department didn’t make it through the police training academy. A third recruit left the academy over rules prohibiting her from wearing a headscarf.

Some Somali residents also think police don’t always listen to their side of a story during when responding to calls, said Ahmed Ahmed, director of the Masjid Ibnu Taymiyah. He calls Bahgat a useful middleman who can explain things from the police perspective.

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