From Vietnam, to a refugee camp, to one day head of the Malibu/Lost Hills Sherrif’s Station, Captain Joshua Thai exudes gratitude for living the American dream. He was only 11 years old when he left Vietnam on a boat that was robbed by pirates in the ocean and rescued by an American tanker. He lived in a refugee camp for six months before being sponsored by a church group in New Jersey.
Thai learned English from scratch and pursued his childhood dream of joining the sheriff’s department. Starting out as a reserve deputy, Thai joined the academy in 1994, worked as international liaison at headquarters, got promoted to sergeant and came to the Malibu/Lost Hills Sherrif’s Station as a sergeant in 2005. He supervised the Malibu beach team for three summer seasons. And, most recently was promoted to captain.
The Malibu Times got a chance to sit down with the man who says, “Being a captain is a dream, but to be a captain for Malibu is beyond imagination.”
How do you feel about your recent promotion to Captain of the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station?
When I came here in 2005, I didn’t think I’d have the honor to come back as a captain. It’s a very honorable station to be in and I’m humbled to have the support of the city and the department.
What do you hope to accomplish as Captain?
To work with the community as a partnership to keep the community safe.
What is the biggest crime activity in Malibu?
Property crime. Cars get broken into. That’s the main issue, especially during the summer. There’s a dramatic population increase with tourists and beachgoers. Malibu is such a world-renowned city that everybody wants to come here.
What is one situation in your career where you were most scared?
In any situation we have to take extra precaution because we walk into an area of unknown. For example, a simple burglary alarm. It may be just an alarm but we walk in there with burglary that we don’t know. We have to take all our training with us. We have to look for all clues and signs that someone may be there. That’s a simple situation. It could be a false alarm or not. But we can’t walk in there and take it lightly.
Have you ever encountered a time where your life was in jeopardy?
I’ve been pretty fortunate. I’m a very cautious person when handling situations. We can’t take things lightly. It’s train-of-thought mindset. During a traffic stop, we don’t know who we’re pulling over. Our intention is a simple traffic citation. But that person may be running or hiding from something bigger.
If you didn’t join the sheriff’s department and instead went down a different career path, what would it be and why?
I often think about that. I don’t know. This is something I’ve always wanted to do as a kid. My friend’s father and my godfather influenced me into this direction. Both were officers.
What is your biggest fear?
To see one of my partners get hurt. Especially now as captain, to see one of my deputies get hurt. We all have families and need to go home to them. I tell them to always be careful.
Do you have any regrets in life?
No. I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career. I believe in working hard and something good will happen. If you have good work ethics, eventually something good will happen.
What is your favorite thing about Malibu?
The community as a whole. The city officials. The council. I’m grateful that they trust me to do my work.
How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks?
It was amazing. I was so impressed that she could paint so beautifully in less than two hours. I’ve never been painted before. I don’t even take pictures.