Sandy Kim was not long out of college when she came across an Anaheim police officer who was taking a report.
Kim, who was working with the developmentally disabled at the time, impressed the officer. He liked the way she dealt with her clients. In an act of fate, he encouraged her to get into law enforcement.
“You’d be able to do this job very well,” the policeman told her.
Kim wasn’t so sure. She saw herself as a petite female, 5-foot-4, not an authoritative police officer, able to handle difficult situations and difficult people.
“For some, law enforcement is a lifelong dream. But for me, I never thought it was possible,” Kim said.
After graduating from UC Irvine with a psychology degree, she tried teaching elementary school. It wasn’t her thing. She thought about being an optometrist and even joining the Marine Corps. Those weren’t her thing, either.
Maybe becoming a cop would be.
So Kim applied. In 1995, she hired into the Los Angeles Police Department. By the time she got well into training, she realized, despite her initial reservations or doubts, this was where she was meant to be.
Kim liked the physical activity, learning about the law, the camaraderie. Her fellow trainees had the same goals and interests. She even made squad leader.
Kim defied any stereotypes about what people thought she was capable of.
“Everything about it to me was fun,” she said of her academy training. “Even the marching, getting up at 3 in the morning, looking at Dodger Stadium.”
Kim spent six years with the LAPD as a patrol officer, collision investigator, field training officer and patrol sergeant before transferring to the Santa Ana Police Department, where she has served since 2001.
Currently, Kim is a detective sergeant in charge of the robbery and assault unit. She is also the coordinator for the Department’s U-visa program where she oversees the handling of u-visa certifications. But she has also been a patrol officer, field training officer, child abuse unit detective, patrol corporal and patrol sergeant.
In 2011, she made Santa Ana Police Department history when she became its first female Asian sergeant.
Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to the United States soon thereafter. She is one of five children and grew up in Los Angeles and Fullerton. In high school, she excelled at track, demonstrating a rare athleticism among her siblings.
But she might’ve gotten some of those skills — and her grit — from her paternal grandmother, who instructed at the police academy in Seoul and founded the women’s army corp in Korea in 1950.
Kim’s father always told her she was like her grandma.
Kim speaks some Korean but is far better in Spanish, which she learned in school and on the job at the LAPD. She said she has been to calls when she would start speaking in Korean, but they would switch to Spanish because it was easier.
“You’d have two Koreans speaking Spanish to each other,” she said with a laugh.
Off duty, Kim enjoys spending time with her husband, a lieutenant with the LAPD, and their two dogs: River, a Siberian husky; and Rona, who’s part German shepherd, part husky. They also foster dogs, having taken in some 15 of them over the last decade.
She enjoys being active and staying in shape. Being physically fit is something Kim feels is important, both for the job and health reasons. She and her husband manage the co-ed softball team for the department and they participate in various tournaments throughout the year, including the Police Games in San Diego, Vegas, and Colorado. They also participate in the World Police & Fire Games biannually since 2011 and have won the gold medal in New York, Belfast, Virginia, and Los Angeles. Kim also has participated in 23 annual Baker to Vegas relay races.
When asked about the highlights of her career, Kim said she has enjoyed knowing her efforts on things like drunk-driving enforcement were saving lives. After all, as a collision investigator, she knew how deadly DUIs could be.
She also took pride in arresting criminals who were abusive toward children.
“You don’t realize how much of that stuff is going on until you have a caseload of it and you’re working specifically in that unit,” she said. “It happens a lot … and it was a great feeling being able to catch somebody.”
Kim said it may be cliché, but she believes in the mantra that one officer can make a difference.
Her current duties don’t have her out in the field as much anymore, but in her later career stage, she loves playing the role of mentor to others.
“It’s all about a well-functioning unit,” Kim said, “about what I can do to help other people who help other people in the community. I may not have a direct influence on the community, but the people I supervise do. I think it’s important to keep all that in perspective.”