Determination made Korean American a top L.A. copTo his family, this 52-year-old Los Angeles Police Department commander is known as Paul Kim. To friends and colleagues, he’s simply “Left, Right, Left.”
As his nickname indicates, Mr. Lee has lived a life that greatly resembles a forward march. So it’s perhaps not surprising that he became the first Asian American to earn the rank of commander at the Los Angeles Police Department. He is one of 15 commanders on the city’s police force, according to its Web site.
Mr. Lee emigrated to the United States with his family shortly after graduating from Gyeonggi Middle School. He went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Pepperdine University and join the United States Marine Corps.
After being discharged from the Marines as a captain, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department. He has since been assigned to the narcotics division, served as a field patrol supervisor in the city’s Hollywood, Wilshire, Van Nuys and Newton divisions and worked in internal affairs and special operations. Currently, he serves as assistant commanding officer for operations in the West Bureau, a 124-square-mile (321-square kilometer) swath of the city encompassing Hollywood, Wilshire and West Los Angeles, and about 840,000 residents.
While serving Los Angelenos, Mr. Kim never slowed down his scholarly pursuits. He’s earned a doctorate in public administration from the University of La Verne.
True to his nickname, Mr. Kim seldom seems to look back. He shrugs off questions about his youth, but it appears that Mr. Kim had a somewhat unpleasant childhood, which he overcame thanks to his strong-willed personality.
Growing up in Jangchung-dong, Mr. Kim lived alongside Park Guen-hye, daughter of former president Park Chung Hee; Chung Mong-joon, president of the Korea Football Association, and Kim Seung-youn, who is chairman of the Hanwha Group.
Mr. Kim’s father, a doctor at Severance Hospital during the Korean War, decided to move to the United States at the suggestion of American friends even though the family was comfortable in Seoul. Mr. Kim does not offer any explanation as to why his father ventured abroad.
Shortly after the family set foot on California soil in 1967, however, tragedy struck: Mr. Kim’s father was killed in a car accident in Los Angeles.
When asked about his infrequent forays to his homeland ― his visit to Seoul a few weeks ago was only his second since he emigrated ― he replied that his 80-hour workweek, studies toward his doctorate and preparations for a promotion spared him little free time.
During his recent stay in Korea, Mr. Kim lectured at police departments and at universities. His speeches stressed the honorable nature of police work, which he said bears some similarities to the work of a priest in that the police serve and protect their community.
While serving in the L.A.P.D.’s Harbor Area district, Mr. Kim introduced a violence reduction program at crime hot spots and on high school campuses that led to a 63-percent drop in homicides. This Stop the Violence program has since been applied department-wide.
Mr. Kim said he obtains the most satisfaction not when he earns a promotion or receives an award, but when people he helped thank him.
As for why he chose to become a police officer, Mr. Kim admits that at first he simply thought they looked cool. That’s the same reason he gives for joining the Marines.
After joining the Los Angeles Police Department, Mr. Kim said, he soon learned that the job required continuous public service to the community. Early on, he said he thought police had the power to control society, but that assumption was erased after so many efforts did not pan out as he desired.
Cases arose and accidents happened regardless of his work, and efforts to catch crooks never ended the way he wanted. Most of the time, Mr. Kim said, cases were solved based on information citizens provided the police. In time, Mr. Kim said he realized that the power of the people was absolute and that he had an obligation to serve the people.
When asked about racism, Mr. Kim answered, “It’s not my problem,” then went on to say that racism existed whether he liked it or not. He commented that Korean-American or Korean-Japanese immigrants should think of themselves as part of the country they live in, not as foreigners. Based on their numbers and influence on the U.S. economy, he felt that Korean Americans were now a recognized community in America. Around 200 Korean Americans now serve in the Los Angeles Police Department, according to Mr. Kim.
by Lee Sang-eon