MUKILTEO — With his gentle tone and sweet smile, the first thought that comes to mind is: “This guy is too nice to be a police chief.”
Cheol Kang might just blow away any stereotypes you have of a top cop.
Well, except for doughnuts.
“Tell me someone who doesn’t love doughnuts,” Kang said. “Cops are people, too.”
He proves it. Kang, 40, who became chief of the Mukilteo force of 29 officers earlier this year, is known for his people skills.
He challenges the notion that “cops have to be rough around the edges, direct and gruff.”
“If you’re just yourself, it’s the easiest way to be,” he said. “It’s worked for me so far in my career and life, so I think I’ll continue to be this way. I want our staff to have that same outgoing compassion for everyone they come in contact with.
Yet there’s a time and place where you do need to be direct and take control of the situation.”
Perhaps he takes inspiration from another, albeit fictional, leader of a peacekeeping force. A recent Facebook profile photo was a selfie with a Lego Yoda taken at Legoland last spring. On his big, serious desk at the station is a stuffed Yoda, given to him by his detectives.
“Some folks have deemed Yoda as my doppelganger. I like to take a look at things in a very holistic view, and be calm and thorough in our judgment in what we do out there,” he said. “I think it’s endearing. It means they like you. At least I’m not Jar Jar Binks.”
Kang is a kid at heart and a foodie at stomach.
To avoid the chuckles, he usually goes undercover in his dad clothes (sweats and a T-shirt) to Henry’s Donut, where he gets an apple fritter or bacon maple bar.
He proudly wears his uniform when he makes the rounds on Mukilteo Speedway — for lunch. He can tell you all about the dishes served, his face lighting up when he talks about the fish and chips at Z’s Burgers and the curry at Mukilteo Thai.
And so on.
He has been known to go twice in the same day to a new place, Hani Hani.
“I’m working through every item on the menu,” he said. “The Korean fried rice is phenomenal.”
Kang was a baby when his parents moved from South Korea to east Tacoma. He went to the Air Force Academy for two years before deciding that the Navy was a better fit. In addition to his police beat, he’s a public affairs officer with the Navy Reserves.
“I’m not known for having fashion sense,” he said. “That’s why I wear a uniform.”
How’s he able to fit into that uniform?
“I exercise to eat,” he said.
He met his wife, Claire, on a blind date in his senior year at Seattle University.
“A Navy buddy of mine said, ‘Hey, you gotta meet Claire, she’s the roommate of my girlfriend.’ I wasn’t a believer in blind dates and things working out. We went to the Red Robin in Bellingham. She thought I was a giant square. I ended up getting some froufrou milkshake as opposed to getting an adult beverage like everybody else,” he said.
They’ve been married for 18 years.
Their two sons, Cooper, 11, and Carter, 6, give him an excuse to pursue his second childhood.
“I’m already talking about our Disney cruise next year to Alaska. I’m the one going, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s going to be so fun,’ and the boys are, ‘Yeah, yeah, Dad,’” he said.
Kang likes living and working in the same community.
“As a parent, it’s great. I can swing by and have lunch with one of the kids and get back to work.”
There he goes, talking about food again.
Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @reporterbrown.
10 questions with the chief
How is Cheol pronounced?
It’s like Joel with a Ch.
I’ve been called Chloe, Cheryl and Cleo.
Why did you become a police officer?
We have the ability to effect change and help others who may not be able to help themselves. The more demanding and challenging a profession, the more satisfying are the rewards. Knowing that you helped a family in distress, helping to solve a crime and keeping the community safe are some of the greatest rewards of this job.
I want to increase the comfort level for the kids with the officers. We shouldn’t have this stigma that cops are these scary people. I want the kids to come to someone in uniform if they need help or have a question. Even for me, growing up in Tacoma on the east side, we never wanted to go near a cop because it was scary. So let’s change that.
How’d you fly up the ranks so fast?
It was a combination of timing and hard work. I always look for opportunities to better myself personally and professionally. I constantly volunteer for assignments that help to better the organization. Additionally, timing also has a large part in when a promotion becomes available. There were several recent retirements in our organization that led to the promotional vacancies.
Do people recognize you out of uniform? Are you just another guy shopping at the QFC?
On most days I’m able to wander around town when I’m not working, and not in uniform, in total anonymity under my everyday “dad” capacity. Yes, I truly am just another guy when I go shopping for my snacks at the Mukilteo QFC.
If you could have a drink with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Theodore Roosevelt. Arguably one of the greatest Americans of all time (I’ll leave that up for debate later). Naturalist, soldier, statesman, author and reformer are just a few of the labels for the 26th president of the United States. Projecting national strength throughout the world while conserving natural resources through the national parks system. I admire his courage to do what was right, regardless of the political pressures at the time.
What are three things in your fridge?
A bottle of sriracha hot sauce (because you always need a little spice in your meals). LaCroix sparkling water, a great soda alternative. Baby carrots (Costco-sized bag).
What is your pet peeve?
Someone picking up and reading their smartphone while you are talking to them.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Smucker’s Magic Shell on top of my ice cream.
What would you say to your 8-year-old self?
“Enjoy being a kid. Enjoy life.” When I was 8, I think I spent a lot more time focusing and worrying on growing up and getting out of the east side of Tacoma.
What would your 8-year-old-self say to you?
“Wow, how’d this all happen?”