Korean American ‘living the dream’ as Federal Way chief of police

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Federal Way Police Chief Andy Hwang (Photo courtesy of Andy Hwang)

Wearing three gold stars on the left collar, three more on the right, and a badge, Andy Hwang, who might be the state’s only Asian American police chief, is setting a vision and working on budgets and projects for the Federal Way Police Department (FWPD). He took over these responsibilities as interim FWPD police chief in January.

Last month, the Federal Way City Council approved him as permanent police chief.

“Andy has proven to be an outstanding leader for Federal Way’s police department,” said Mayor Jim Ferrell in a March 11 statement. “Andy is a person of exceptional character and integrity, and has demonstrated his commitment to community service and public safety throughout his career.”

Hwang, 48, credits others and hard work over a 26-year law enforcement career for his current position. “I don’t feel like I did it alone,” he said. “I had help. I feel very blessed to be given this opportunity.”

Hwang said his goal is to serve the people he works with by providing the necessary resources for the department’s 126 officers, which include those of Korean, Chinese, and Filipino descent. The agency also has 29 civilian staff members, for a total of 155 employees, and serves about 90,000 city residents.

Hwang’s family moved from Seoul to the Lacey-Olympia area in the 1970s, when he was 7. His parents have been a major influence in his life, instilling the values of hard work, education, and helping others.

In high school, he was selected to be the co-captain of his varsity baseball team. The father of one of his teammates was an Olympia police officer. Hwang was able to meet the Olympia police chief and follow his passion to be a police officer.

He joined the police explorer program run by the Thurston County Sheriff’s department. “The more I got into it, the more I learned about the career in law enforcement, the more I wanted to pursue it and become a police officer. I feel like I’m totally just living the dream,” Hwang said.

At St. Martin’s University, Hwang spent his time either studying or volunteering at the Olympia Police Department.

“Not too long after I was in college, I got hired by the Olympia Police Department as a police cadet,” Hwang said.

“I got to a point where I was basically driving the car, doing all the paperwork. I started testing to become a police officer when I was 21.”

He was soon offered a different job at the Olympia Police Department. “I actually started on my 22nd birthday as a police officer,” he said.

“When I got into police work, it was the most money that our family or any individual had made. That was the springboard of beginning to live the American Dream because they (his parents) really came here to see their kids do well.”

In 1994, Hwang received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He earned his master’s in organizational management from the University of Phoenix in 2001. He became a supervisor of the newly formed FWPD in 1996. From that point on, he worked his way up, earning promotions. Later, he accepted the job of FWPD deputy chief from former police Chief Brian Wilson.

On Jan. 15, Hwang became FWPD’s interim police chief.

“I knew I took the right path,” Hwang said. “I enjoy what I’m doing. I love serving the citizens and making a difference to make our community safe. I really feel it’s a noble profession.” (end)

For more information about the Federal Way Police Department, go to cityoffederalway.com/police.

James Tabafunda can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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