Lieutenant Jae Hwang, a 15-year veteran of the Montgomery County Police Department currently serving as deputy commander of the 5th District in Germantown, has thrown his hat into the ring to run for Montgomery County Sheriff.
Hwang is running as a Republican and will challenge two-term incumbent Sheriff Darren Popkin, a Democrat who was first elected in 2010, in the November 2018 election. It will be the first time since being elected that Popkin will face a GOP challenger in the general election. He has set up a website to announce his intention to seek the office of Sheriff.
“I grew up in Montgomery County,” said Hwang. “I started from the ground up as in intern with the police. I then became a police officer here and moved up in rank. Violent crime has been rising in Montgomery County over recent years. I have seen how Montgomery County has changed both for the good and bad. Crime is on the rise, and I think we need a more effective, more engaged and more proactive sheriff to keep Montgomery County safe.”
Hwang thinks he’s the man to take the sheriff’s department in a new direction.
“Popkin was first elected seven years ago, and before being elected he was the chief deputy of the Sheriff’s department,” said Hwang. “He has been running that department for 19 years. I think it is time for a change. We need a sheriff that will engage the community and work together with citizens and other law enforcement agencies. I believe I can provide better leadership for the sheriff’s department.”
Hwang believes that he is the man who can bridge, what he sees as a gap between the Sheriff’s Department and the community.
“I respect Sheriff Popkin,” said Hwang, “but do you know who the sheriff is? That is a real question, Do people know who the sheriff is? I don’t think many folks in the county understand that the Sheriff is highest law enforcement officer in Montgomery County. I think the sheriff needs to be out there in the public more. It is an office which needs to engage the community in the community. The sheriff needs to be out and engaging the people. People elected him to this position.”
Hwang wants to see the Sheriff’s Department take a larger role more collaborative role with MCPD in preventing criminal activity in the County. “We have a bunch of different agencies that have to collaborate better and provide the proper resources. We have sheriff’s deputies, which have the equal statutory authority as Montgomery County law enforcement as police officers. They can go out and stop cars and do traffic enforcement. But currently, that doesn’t seem to be happening. I don’t know if they are directed not do so, but it is frowned upon. We can use all the traffic enforcement we can get; there are some crazy drivers out there.”
The Sheriff’s Department’s main function is prisoner transportation and guarding of prisoners when they are not in the jails. While sheriff’s often active in the jails, the jails operate under the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation.
Hwang said that often MCPD officers are pulled off their regular patrols to provide transportation for prisoners because a sheriff’s deputy is not available. Hwang contents that this has been a problem for almost a decade and little has been done to improve the situation.
“The sheriff’s office has to become more efficient,” said Hwang. “The law enforcement agencies in Montgomery County all have to work together, so if the sheriff’s office is not doing things they should, the County Police have to pick up the lag, for example, prisoner transports and guarding.”
“If the sheriff’s department can’t do the prison transfer, which is their basic job description, Montgomery County Police officers are being pulled off the roads to help out with transfers at both the Seven Locks facility and the Boyds facility for more than ten years. This generally takes place on weekends and nights, and that is when we need police out there on the roads.”
Another major aspect of the Sheriff’s duties is serving warrants and protective orders. If elected, Hwang wants to see Sheriff’s deputies take a larger role in handling domestic violence calls.
“If sheriff’s deputies were handling domestic violence calls, it would streamline the entire process and make it faster and efficient for the victims,” said Hwang. “Right now county police go to the scene of a domestic violence call, and they give it to the MCPD detectives, and then you have the sheriff’s department running around trying to serve protective orders. It would be faster and more efficient if one law enforcement agency was dealing with those cases on a more regular basis.”
“We need to streamline the process,” said Hwang. “Hopefully, one day, sheriff’s deputies will be able to handle some of the domestic violence calls. However, staffing is an issue. I don’t think they currently have the staffing to do that because they don’t have the staff to handle the prisoner transport needs.”
In September, Hwang, who also serves as a captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG), United States Army Reserve, was awarded the National Image, Inc.’s Military Meritorious Service Award for promoting core values exemplifying outstanding service in his branch of service and community. National IMAGE Inc. is a national Hispanic organization established in 1971 whose mission is to empower Hispanics through leadership development by advocating for employment, education and civil rights.
“If elected I will be hands-on in the communities,” said Hwang. “I will reach out to the Spanish speaking community. I speak fluent Spanish. I am going to talk to them and listen to what their needs are. The bottom line is we want our communities to be safe. I think the sheriff’s office needs some new direction. I have walked the streets. I have been out there. I know what the officers are saying. I have the connection to talk to the actual officers who are working. I have been in the trenches. I worked midnights for almost ten years. I can bring that street knowledge.”
“It is going to be hard and challenging, I have no doubt about that,” said the graduate of the University of Baltimore Law School, “but, I am here to bring good change. I think I bring a lot to the table. I plan to do a lot of outreach to all the communities, which is something that would continue if I get elected. I want to reach out to our communities.”
Hwang speaks three languages fluently, English, Spanish and Korean, and is currently teaching himself to speak Japanese. Before being appointed Deputy Commander of the 5th District, he worked in the MCPD’s Internal Affairs division handling investigations and allegations of misconduct. Hwang is a Judge Advocate in Administrative and Civil Law at the Communications and Electronics Command at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, in Harford County.
Photos courtesy Jae Hwang
Sheriff's car photo By Ben Schumin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons