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Federal Way interim police chief looks forward to the future

Interim Police Chief Andy Hwang stands outside of Federal Way Police Department headquarters during the city
Interim Police Chief Andy Hwang stands outside of Federal Way Police Department headquarters during the city's 'Blue Friday' rally on Jan. 17
— image credit: Photo by Carrie Rodriguez

For the Federal Way Police Department's (FWPD) interim chief, Andy Hwang, being in law enforcement is something he knew he always wanted to pursue.

"I've always wanted to be a police officer, ever since I can remember," Hwang said. "I remember, when I got my first opportunity, I actually joined a police explorer program. I still remember that feeling when I put my uniform on and being part of that police organization and how proud I felt. I can honestly tell you that I feel the same way today. I still love putting on the uniform. I love what I do and it's served me really well."

Hwang is originally from the Lacey/Olympia area, where he got his start in law enforcement 26 years ago. Hwang, a 48-year-old Korean American, also worked with the Olympia Police Department while attending Saint Martin's University where he received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in 1994. Hwang also has a master's degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix, and also graduated from the School of Police Staff and Command at Northwestern University.

Many who worked with him in those early days noticed his enthusiasm for the job, he said.

"If I wasn't in college doing classwork or whatever, I was down at the police department, working my job as a police cadet. And in every spare moment, it seemed like I was doing a ride along, and then when I became a reserve officer, I remember other officers actually enjoyed taking me out because I was at a point where I'd do all the paperwork for them," he said with a smile.

He served with the Olympia Police Department until 1996, when he made the trip to Federal Way and joined the newly-formed police force here.

"I used to think the Olympia area was the center of the universe, but in 1996 I came up here … It was a tough decision, a big decision. They were creating a brand new police department here, and there was a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement in the law enforcement community," Hwang recalled. "I thought maybe I wanted to be a part of this team. I started looking into it, and I applied as a police lieutenant. Ever since then, I've promoted up. I was a commander for about eight years. I've been a deputy chief for seven-and-a-half years now."

While those who have "interim" in front of their titles often feel like they're in a lame duck situation, Hwang said he doesn't feel that way with his current stint as the top cop in Federal Way. In fact, it's a position he's already familiar with, as he served as the interim chief between 2009-10, when the city government switched over from a city manager form of government to a strong mayor form of government.

"Even though I'm in the interim position, we're going to forge forward as an organization," he said. "I can't function by saying, 'Oh, I'm interim, we're not going to make any tough decisions.' I don't think the organization can afford it. The people in the organization expect us to move forward in a positive direction."

He noted that he's been meeting with all members and work groups within the department to get a sense of where things are at, and how they should continue moving forward. There's also a planning workshop set for February, he added, where the hope is to review the department's "vision, mission and guiding principles." He's doing all of this, he said, out of a deep sense of commitment to all of the officers in FWPD.

"One of the great things about working in this organization is just the quality of people we have. The competent people we have. I think the community looks at the Federal Way Police Department as a professional organization and we sense that support from the community," he said. "We've got men and women in the police department who are willing to lay down their lives for perfect strangers. They're willing to go to these calls when it happens. I think those are special people who are willing to do that. I have the greatest respect for the people who work at the Federal Way Police Department."

With the department quickly approaching its 20th year of existence, Hwang said he hopes to continue to have the department move to "the next level of effectiveness and innovation." One of the recent developments of the last few years in that move has been the Safe City program, something Hwang termed an "electronic block watch." He feels the program allows FWPD to be able to "reach out to our citizens and communicate with them." Along with the continued expansion of that program, Hwang said he's very excited about the recently announced substation near the Transit Center.

"(The substation) is a huge positive. I'll tell you, people within the police department are very excited about having a substation at that location. It's going to be highly visible, I think it's going to enhance the sense of safety and security at that location," he said. "It's going to be a great addition to the city and police department, and we're really excited about having a real substation."

Even with his extensive experiences as a leader, Hwang maintains a sense of humility regarding his career, in the past, present and future.

"I never set out to be a police chief or anything like that. I was very fortunate, just to be given the opportunities and encountering the right people," he said. "I'm not too worried about (not being hired as the permanent police chief). I feel like it's a win-win situation. Worst case scenario, I go back to my job that I had and I loved that job already. I get to continue to support my family and do what I love to do."

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