MUKILTEO — In his 20 years on the Mukilteo force, Police Chief Cheol Kang took a bite out of crime.
He also helped this reporter with dining reviews and cut the mayor’s hair.
What’s up with that?
I would have trusted him to cut my hair … well, maybe. Anyway, it’s too late for that. His last day is Friday.
Kang, 45, is joining the King County Sheriff’s Office as chief of community programs and services.
He started in patrol and climbed the ranks to Mukilteo chief in 2017, making a difference at every bend. He created a block watch program and citizen’s police academy. He started Cuts with Cops, an annual fundraiser for prostate cancer research at Nic’s Barbershop.
“Under his command he really opened up a lot of opportunities,” Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine said. “He has done a tremendous job.”
How are his shearing abilities?
“Anybody who is allowed to carry a gun is probably safe with scissors,” Marine said. “We were under adult supervision. Nic was there watching.”
When the pandemic closed hair salons in 2020, Kang did a “Let’s Get Haircuts Together” morale-boosting Facebook video for officers and citizens. He told how to use clippers to cut hair, including his own.
Kang was a visible and easily approachable presence around town at festivals, forums and events.
He always made time for the media.
“No B.S., always professional and polite, but just this incredible reservoir of compassion and grace,” said Rikki Fruichantie, a former Daily Herald reporter.
The only time he’d claim he was too busy was when I’d invite him to come to my Zumba class.
He went with me on a few dining reviews. (I’m so bad at culinary critiques that he could have arrested me for impersonating a food critic.)
Breaking bread is a good way to talk with people, he said. He doesn’t have a favorite food.
“Depends on the day,” he said. “I like it all.”
Kang and I lunched recently at the Diamond Knot Brewery & Alehouse at the waterfront. He’d never tried their legendary Stuffed Knot Tots, a mammoth tater tot laced with gooey cheese and bacon. Neither had I.
We each devoured one and split a third. He gave me the big half. That’s the kind of guy he is.
“Dense, filling and delicious at the same time,” he said of the tots.
I could have stayed there all day with him, cracking open shelled peanuts and drinking brewed root beer, but Kang had to bounce to teach his yearly criminal law class at Everett Community College.
“I can teach them real life stories about how the laws apply,” he said.
He told about an incident when he was working patrol and an emergency call came in.
“The delivery guy was like, ‘I just delivered a pizza to this house where there were people with rifles and a girl strapped to a chair, tied up. And guns all over the house,’” Kang said.
All officers on duty responded to the call and surrounded the house.
Through the back door, a person with a rifle was seen wearing what appeared to be a ballistic armor vest.
“We’re going in thinking it was a hostage situation, kicking in the front door,” Kang said. “Thankfully, everyone’s cooperative and they lay down on the ground.”
Turns out it was a prank by teens who were bored after deciding not to go to the junior prom.
“They thought it would be funny to play a joke on the pizza delivery guy. They paid for the pizza, but made him freak out thinking they had a hostage in there,” he said.
The weapons were airsoft but looked like the real thing.
“At the end of the day we’re like, ‘What crime was that?’” Kang said. “That’s where the reckless endangerment statute plays kind of the catchall.”
The teens were not charged.
“Their parents and guardians were better able to deliver appropriate discipline rather than have them in the criminal justice system,” Kang said. “They learned it was not a funny joke to play. I learned that 25 pounds of gear makes it really challenging to climb a 6-foot fence.”
It’s nice to have a story where nobody is hurt, he said.
Kang was a police commander in 2016 when a 19-year-old killed three people and injured a fourth at a Mukilteo house party. It was the first criminal homicide in Mukilteo since 2002.
Kang is undaunted by the challenges encountered by the King County force.
“In Western Washington, we are all dealing with the same issues and problems, just in different amounts and variations of it,” he said.
A recent theft in Mukilteo was Stollwerck Plumbing’s parade float go-kart with a toilet for a seat. It remains unsolved.
Assistant Chief Andy Illyn was appointed to serve as interim chief after Kang’s final day on Friday.
Kang was a baby when his parents moved the family from South Korea to Tacoma. After two years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, he transferred to Seattle University where he joined the Navy ROTC. In the Navy, he served five years active duty and was in the Reserve until 2020. He was deployed twice.
He and Claire, an artist, have been married 23 years and have two sons, Cooper, 16, and Carter, 12.
“Carter has spent 2½ years going through leukemia treatment,” he said. “So it’s a couple of new starts at the beginning of June. He will be done dealing with cancer and I’m going to start a new job.”
Kang will commute to Seattle so his sons can continue in Mukilteo schools. This area is home, he said.
So you’ll still see him around town, on Yelp, and maybe on The Herald’s restaurant page when Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken joint opens this summer on Mukilteo Speedway.
“I love a good chicken sandwich,” he said. “I’ll see how it scores up against all the other chicken sandwiches.”
The restaurant’s slogan is “Eat life to the fullest.”
“That’s a true motto there,” Kang said. “That’s words to live by.”