By age 11, Ken Lew’s house in Westchester had been burglarized three times. He remembers the trauma: “… you go to your house and everything is turned upside down. You’re pretty shaken up.” But he also remembers the officers who responded.
“It was late at night, and I came out in my pajamas. I saw these two officers, and my dad told them, ‘Hey, my son wants to be a police officer,’” he recalls. “Both of them kind of looked at me and said, ‘Look kid, stay in school, stay out of trouble, and hopefully maybe one day I’ll train you.’ And from then on I was hooked.”
He registered for the Los Angeles Police Academy 12 years later, in May of 1990. Over the next 30 years, Officer Lew would accept some of the department’s most challenging assignments: Newton Street, 77th Street, Central Division and South Bureau CRASH, an anti-gang unit.
The job was exciting, fast-paced and frequently sobering. Lew would encounter struggling families — good people who lacked the resources to improve their condition.
“There are some occasions where officers come across a family, for whatever reason, and they realize there’s no food, no clothing for the kids. They’re just living a bad life,” he says. “These officers, a lot of them grew up in middle- to lower-class communities as well, so they understand it.”
When Lew joined the local Pacific Division in 2011 — a comparatively more relaxed assignment — he realized that he’d reached a point in his career where he could do more to help families in need, so he founded Badge of Heart, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“I started about five years ago, helping one family at a time,” he says. “To date now, five years later, we have helped 2,800 families throughout L.A.”
Families are referred to Badge of Heart by local elementary schools and by officers working in the field, including many from Venice, Mar Vista and Del Rey. With the support of sponsors, the organization provides food, clothing and even helps pay bills. Badge of Heart also distributes turkey dinners before Thanksgiving, and plans for an annual back-to-school backpack giveaway are in the works.
“We’ve been blessed so far with what we’ve been able to accomplish, but we really want to take this to the next level,” says Lew.
Next year Lew will retire from police work to dedicate himself to Badge of Heart full-time. He hopes to build a talented team so they can expand their reach even further.
“My passion isn’t really police work anymore,” he explains, musing on retirement. “My passion is doing this now. It’s to help the next generation.”
Learn more at badgeofheart.org.
— Danny Karel