By Zachariah Bryan
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Andy Hwang was a kid growing up in Olympia, listening to the blare of sirens and watching troopers zoom by on the streets, he dreamed of becoming a police officer.
“I was just like, gosh, the cars, the uniform, it was just very appealing to me,” he said.
Little did he know, not only would he reach that dream, but he would exceed it beyond his wildest imagination. Last March, he became the first Asian American Federal Way Chief of Police.
For Hwang, it has been a long journey. It all started when his parents decided to move from Seoul, S. Korea to Washington state, in pursuit of dreams and financial security, especially for their children. Hwang said he doesn’t think about being a Korean American when it comes to serving in the police force, but he would be remiss if he didn’t note that his parents and their culture of hard work influenced him greatly.
“My parents are probably the hardest working people I know,” he said. “They came to this country and they did whatever they could to provide for this family. They worked as custodians, they worked long hours, very little pay. We saw that growing up.”
When Hwang started high school, he took his interest in becoming an officer and went into a police exploration program with the Thurston County Sherriff’s Department, where he went on ride-alongs and learned about what it’s like to be a man in blue. He helped out with traffic control and as extra security at the county fair, and the more he participated, the more he knew this is what he wanted to do.
With a strong insistence from his parents to pursue an education, Hwang went on to college to study criminal justice at Seattle University.
“They came to this country for us, to give us a better life. They wanted to make sure we got our education; they thought that was really the ticket to changing our situation. I never thought not going to college was an option, I always thought that was something I always had to do, so I always thank them for that,” Hwang said.
He had the opportunity to join the Olympia Police Department during his junior year as a cadet, but even then, his parents wouldn’t let him quit college. So he finished his studies, joined the police force, and began what would become a long career in police work. He spent 10 years on the OPD before transferring to Federal Way to become a police lieutenant and a founding member of the Federal Way Police Department.
Now, 26 years into his career, he has a lot to look back on.
“Everything’s like a blur, its hard to believe I’ve been in this profession this long. It seems like the other day when I started my career in the police agency.”
In addition to education and hard work, Hwang said the last value that his parents instilled in him is in religion. When his family first showed up to America, churches had helped them with clothes and food.
Now, as a leader, his parents’ values have helped give Hwang a servant’s attitude.
His style is not to ask what his employees can do for him, but what he can do for his employees.
“As the chief of police, I really have limited contact with the citizens. It’s really the everyday people doing the work that are going to make the difference. For me, the important part is serving the men and women in the department,” Hwang said. “I know great work is being done.”
Hwang noted that he understood the great responsibility he had, and how it influences the community. Every decision he makes doesn’t just affect him, or his employees, but the city of Federal Way at large. Safeguarding the community isn’t just concentrating on the hot, high-profile crimes, like drugs and homicides, but also the rote and routine. For example, he said, traffic control is important because far more people will get hurt or killed in vehicle accidents.
Of course, because Hwang’s the humble guy that he is, he doesn’t take credit for his success.
“I don’t feel like I could’ve done it alone. I have a lot of support from my family and there have been key people in my life who have given me opportunities to be promoted to this job. I would tell you I don’t take any day for granted, I know the importance of what this position holds,” he said.
He added, “I look forward to the challenges this job will bring.” (end)
Zachariah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com.