Hector Police Chief Khang Duy (Mike) Nguyen
By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
Khang Duy (Mike) Nguyen may be the first Asian American chief of police for a municipality in the State of Minnesota.
For the past six months Nguyen has served as the Chief of Police for Hector, Minnesota, a town of about 1,200 people in Renville County, about 90 miles slightly southwest of St. Paul. It is a part-time position, however, he is in charge of two fulltime officers, and seven part-time officers.
“The city has been very supportive of me being from a different background and with my Asian background, I bring lot of may family teachings of how I give people respect and how I treat people,” said Nguyen. “That all comes from growing up, my family and cultural background.
Nguyen joined the Hector Police Department in 2007 and was promoted to Acting Chief in 2010. He also works on call and part-time for the nearby Buffalo Lake and Olivia police departments.
When he is not in Renville County, Nguyen is the Operations Manager for American Security & Investigations in St. Paul where he has worked for eight years. Part of that work is to manage security for St. Paul Public Schools, Ramsey County Government buildings. He also works with the State Fair Police Department each year.
Nguyen said at any given time one of the jobs takes priority over the others but that they all work out because he has a good team.
The challenge with small town police is not having a large budget and other resources which limits his time.
Small town police require a larger support role from the county sheriffs department than do the cities. The chief of police will often work shifts on patrol. Nguyen said he likes the community interaction and to see for himself what is going on in town.
“Its not just administration,” he said. “You are out there in traffic and taking calls.”
The dangerous side of small town patrols is that a patrol officer’s backup might be 30 minutes away at the police station or the sheriff’s department. The positive side is that small departments do much more of their own investigation work – an experience they would not get in a larger department.
In a small town everyone knows each other and police making an arrest are interacting with people they likely know from everyday life. How they handle these situations will get around fast and the perception of the town can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending how they perform their duty.
“I have always been a person to interact and help people out,” said Nguyen. “They are not always there to make an arrest, but they also can offer aid before the enforcement even comes into place.”
Police calls present difficult decisions that impact someone’s life, and he said its important for the officer to think about how they enforce the letter of the law in such a way that the victims and perpetrators but more importantly – youth – understand this responsibility.
“One of most difficult things is working with the kids of parents that you know,” he said. “You want to do the right thing and make the right decision to better effect the kids in the future.”
It is not easy to inform a parent that there child was involved with alcohol or drugs. Moreover, Nguyen said whether it is a situation where he can exercise discretion or not, he knows that when kids or adults are sitting in the back of the squad car they tend to listen very well. He uses this time to help them understand what it is they have done wrong and about the legal or safety issues and consequences.
He recalled his own youth on ride-a-longs when he learned how police interacted with adolescents that were joy riding, getting into accidents, and it impressed him with how police dealt with various situations.
His heart was with becoming a policeman at a young age but he did not know it yet.
Nguyen said his family left Saigon later than most, hanging on until the late 1970s, and wound up in Minnesota for a few months before moving on to Houston – where he was born in 1981, and then a younger sister a few years later.
“I grew up with a lot of family, and I still have the culture and speak the language,” he said. “Its all about respect, honor and family. Growing up it is what kept us together as a tight bunch.”
The family was living in Atlanta when Nguyen’s father suffered a stroke in 1994. He survived and they decided to return to Minnesota. Nguyen was just 13 and started working to support the family. He graduated from Wayzata Senior High School in 2000.
By the time he was in high school and college, Nguyen said he was encouraged to get into computer programming, but it wasn’t long before he switched his interests into criminal justice. He had admired police since he was young, when they came to help his dad during a medical emergency, or when he saw then at school or in town.
Nguyen earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Law Enforcement at Metropolitan State University, and has an Associate’s Degree in Law Enforcement from North Hennepin Community College.
He completed a law enforcement skills training at the Center for Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement in St. Paul. His professional training includes certification as a Drug Recognition (DRE) Expert.
Nguyen started his policing career with the Roseville Police Department in 2003 as a Community Service Officer. He said it was difficult to get his foot in the door at police departments and began getting to know police in Renville County and eventually landed a part time job as a police officer in Olivia. It wasn’t long before he was working at several are departments.
Nguyen and his spouse, Sara, and his son Lance, 9, live near Lakeville where he enjoys his favorite hobby – fishing.