Everything’s coming up KangAfter years of study and service, first-generation immigrant makes top cop in Mukilteo
“This boy is going to be a chief someday.”
That’s what former Mukilteo Police Chief Mike Murphy said to himself 13 years ago upon hiring Cheol Kang as a patrol officer.
“In my mind, there was never a question of him becoming a chief of police,” said Murphy, who served as chief from 1997 though 2010. “The only question was whether it would be in Mukilteo or some place else.”
Kang stuck it out, and Murphy for one is glad he did.
“I would have liked to promote him faster than I really could,” he said. “He is level-headed, gets along with everybody, and he’s a really hard worker. He just has all the makings of a chief.”
The Mukilteo City Council was set to officially appoint Kang during its Jan. 3 meeting, after the Mukilteo Beacon’s press deadline. Kang said his wife, Claire, and his two sons, 10-year-old Cooper and 5-year-old Carter, would be by his side during the appointment.
Following a national search, panel interviews and a public reception in November, Mayor Jennifer Gregerson selected Kang over three other finalists.
Kang, 39, has been serving as interim chief since Chuck Macklin resigned in September after serving a year in the position. Macklin is now director of campus security at Everett Community College.
Kang is expected to make a salary of $120,270, following the City Council’s Sept. 19 decision to increase it by $1,500 beginning in 2017.
However, for Kang, police work is hardly about the money.
“I’m very thankful and grateful to be in the position I am and to be living in such a great community and with such great schools for my boys,” said Kang, who at 1 year old emigrated with his parents and older brother from Busan, South Korea, to Tacoma, Wash.
“It wasn’t exactly the best of neighborhoods,” Kang said of the city’s east side. “There were a lot of bad influences, and gangs were everywhere. It would have been easy for me to get sucked up into that world.
“That drove me to do well in school. Once school was out, the number of activities was really limited. Because my family didn’t have the financial freedom to pay for sports clubs, I went to the library and did my homework and researched what I wanted to do in life.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pay for college, so I had to figure out what my options were.”
His father’s service in the South Korean Army during the Vietnam War inspired him to pursue military service himself. After high school, he attended the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. After two years, Kang decided against a career in the Air Force, instead joining the Navy and spending the next two years working toward a bachelor’s degree at Seattle University, where he majored in history.
“At the end of the day, you are going to be a leader when you go into the Navy, no matter what you do,” he said. “I wanted to find out what had made our leaders successful throughout history.”
In his senior year, Kang met the woman he would marry.
“It was a blind date,” said Kang, who recently celebrated 17 years of marriage with his wife. “A good Navy friend of mine was actually dating my wife’s roommate at the time and he told me to come and meet her roommate.”
From Navy to law enforcement
The couple moved to Whidbey Island in 1999, where Kang spent the next five years serving as the Aviation Maintenance Duty Officer at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Kang joined Mukilteo’s police department in 2004, though he remains active with the Navy as a reserve public affairs officer. In that capacity, he’s handled public relations efforts for Navy Fleet Week events in Detroit, L.A. and Spokane, as well as the Seattle Seafair Fleet Week.
In Mukilteo, Kang has served as a detective, a sergeant, a crime prevention officer, a public information officer and as commander.
In 2008, he created the department’s crime prevention program, which includes the block watch program, the citizen’s police academy and National Night Out events.
“He really made that into something,” Murphy said. “He created most of the crime prevention programs we have today, and really connected with the community in the process.”
Between 2012 and 2014, Kang taught at Shoreline Community College, creating a new curriculum around crime prevention. Since 2015, he’s taught criminal justice courses at Everett Community College.
Kang is also a member of the Mukilteo Elementary PTSA and Cub Scouts Pack 16, and regularly attends Mukilteo Kiwanis Club and Chamber of Commerce meetings.
Ready to lead
Crime prevention and community policing require vigilance and engagement, he said.
“You can’t just sit back and rest on your laurels,” Kang said. “You have to adapt to the changes that keep coming your way. That’s why we are regularly re-assessing the community’s needs.”
Kang said he plans to lead with the words of past police chiefs clear in his mind.
“‘Leave things better than you found them,’ as Rex Caldwell would say,” Kang said of Caldwell, who served as chief for nearly five years after Murphy. “‘You always want to raise the bar,’ as Chuck Macklin would say.”
Kang said he has three key expectations of his supervisors: take care of your people, set the example and have fun.
“This job can really wear you down, so you have to be able to enjoy it,” he said, pointing to events such as Shop with a Cop. “We are doing this to serve the community. It’s not about tickets and arrests; it’s about community service.”
The department, which consists of 35 employees and a $4.7 million annual budget, is looking to hire several officers and a ranger, he said.
“Our department is a close-knit family,” he said. “We want to get not just qualified candidates, but candidates that are a good fit not only for the department but the community, too.”
Kang said he knows his father is proud of the success both he and his brother have found in life. For himself, Kang said he is humbled by his good fortune.
“To think about where I started from in my elementary school on the east side of Tacoma to being able to raise my two boys here in Mukilteo – it’s awe-inspiring,” he said. “I know the term awesome is overused, but that’s probably the only word to sum it all up.”