By Joe Johnson
He was born Sung Chao Wang in Taiwan 41 years ago, but everyone calls him Charlie.
The men and women he now supervises call him sergeant.
“I really have no idea how I got the name Charlie,” the Athens-Clarke County police officer said. “I think my parents just started calling me that.”
When he was 6, Wang came with his family to the U.S. so that his father could pursue a doctorate at the University of Georgia. They settled in Athens, but after a couple of years relocated to Elberton.
Wang began considering a career in law enforcement after he and his wife were victims of an armed home invasion.
“I knew from my experience what it felt like and how much victims often rely on law enforcement officers and the criminal justice system to find some type of closure to whatever situation they are facing, and I decided that I wanted to be a part of that system,” Wang said.
His desire to become a police officer was reinforced after taking a job with a company that manufactured spectrophotometers, a device for the analysis of chemical compounds.
“I just sat in a cubicle,” Wang said. “I wanted some action. I felt I was just wasting away when I could be out there with my nose in it. The idea of being able to interact with different people and be faced with different situations on a day-to-day basis were also reasons that I chose a career in law enforcement.”
The Elbert County Comprehensive High School graduate obtained a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Piedmont College. He later earned a master’s degree in the Administration of Justice.
He was hired by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office in 2005 and little more than a year later joined the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
Wang quickly found that his new profession satisfied both his need for action and desire to help others.
He recalled responding to a very heated domestic disturbance in which a man was beating his girlfriend while their 2-year-old son watched in terror.
“I was able to pull him off of her and arrest him at end of the ordeal,” Wang said. “That came to a good conclusion because it ended the cycle of violence that would have effected the toddler greatly.”
Responding to an “in-progress” call and being able to defuse a situation before it gets out of control is one of the better aspects of the job, according to Wang.
“That is always an instant reward when that happens because you’ve stopped a person from the crime that they are committing and possibly from committing others,” the officer said.
Wang is a trained crisis negotiator, which means he possesses valuable tools he can use at any time.
“A lot of people don’t understand that we are out there every day dealing with mental health consumers, and I’m able to use my training to de-escalate situations and use what we call verbal judo to solve these cases where people are delusional,” Wang said. “They are not dealing with reality and my training helps me talk to these people in a way they understand. Ultimately, I’ve learned over the last several years that these people don’t want to be given a lot of crap. They want someone to really listen to them.”
Wang moved back to Athens with his wife, Deanna, in 2004. They live here with their 14-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.
While he is not the fist Asian American to have been hired by Athens-Clarke police - an officer of Korean heritage previously worked for the department - Wang is the first to achieve supervisory rank.
“I take a lot of pride in being the first Chinese sergeant,” he said.
Wang has not only helped to further diversify the ranks of his department, but his background has proved useful when members of the growing local Asian communities are in need of police services.
“They are very reserved when it comes to asking for help,” Wang said.
Being able to speak the same language also helps.
There is one particular day that Wang regularly re-lives in his mind.
On March 22, 2011, he and fellow officer Elmer “Buddy” Christian were having lunch at Zaxbys in west Athens.
“I remember at the time we were both trying to get in better shape, so I gave him some of my chicken strips,” Wang said.
A BOLO was issued for a suspect in an armed robbery and kidnapping. The officers knew the suspect had friends and relatives down the road on Sycamore Drive. Wang said they cruised the area for a while, then Christian told Wang to pick up his gym clothes so that they could work out after their shift ended.
Christian then responded to an unrelated call in the same area, which Wang said he probably would have taken had he not gone to the west precinct to get his gym clothes.
Christian was in his patrol car on Sycamore Drive when the kidnapping suspect ran past, after having just shot and wounded Senior Police Officer Tony Howard, who conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle the suspect was in. The suspect shot through the patrol car’s window, killing Christian.
“When I say that Buddy saved people’s lives, I’m one of those people because if I had taken that call I would have been the victim,” Wang said.
The officer said he tortured himself by wondering whether had he done anything differently that day it would have changed the outcome. Wang said he found that it helps to talk about the events rather than keeping things inside.
“It still seems surreal that one minute we were working together, taking our lunch break together, and just minutes later he was taken from us,” he said.
The officer added, “Buddy sacrificed his life for us so now we have to do what’s right and keep his memory going. I talk to my guys a lot about surviving after that, and make suggestions on how to be safe and never get complacent.”
As a member of the police department’s Honor Guard, Wang played a prominent role in his friend’s funeral service and the procession that followed, from the Classic Center to Evergreen Memorial Park.
“From that horrific experience we were able to see the community come together and offer support for Buddy’s and Tony’s families, which was an amazing thing,” Wang said. “Seeing all of the people who lined Atlanta Highway to say their goodbyes to Buddy for the funeral procession was an unbelievable sight that I will never forget. It was a welcome reminder that there are still good people in this world where bad things happen every day.”