By Stefanie Donahue
Driven by a desire to help his community, Mike Haslip spent more than 40 years at the Blaine Police Department serving as a civilian volunteer, animal control officer, reserve and commissioned officer and up until this week, chief of police. On October 31, he retired from the department.
During a Blaine City Council meeting on October 23, friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate his years of service. Blaine Police Department Sgt. Ryan King and administration manager Lisa Moeller presented him with a shadow box, with space for honorary medals and pins that he’s collected over the years, as well as the flag that was formerly on display at the station. Blaine mayor Harry Robinson read a proclamation from the city, which stated, in part:
“Mike has fostered an enduring legacy of personal, professional service to the community, giving a voice to the vulnerable, is renowned for his patience and skills as a negotiator and problem solver, and has led his team as an innovator and forward thinker, always seeking to provide for the needs of his community, for this and future generations.”
In response, Haslip said, “I’ve been blessed to be able to work here all these years. I never thought I’d get this lucky.”
Haslip grew up in Soldotna, Alaska and moved to Blaine in 1971 after his father relocated for work. He attended Blaine High School his sophomore year, moved back to Alaska his junior year and returned to Blaine his senior year to graduate, he said.
His interest in police work ran in the family. Haslip’s grandfather was a US Marshal in Alaska and his father was a police officer in Kodiak, Alaska. Haslip first developed an affinity for crime reporting after landing a job at a radio station while in high school. After moving to Blaine, he participated in numerous police ride-alongs and decided to pursue an education in police operations at Evergreen State College.
At 19, Haslip was offered a job at the Blaine Police Department, after completing one year at Evergreen. He started as a civilian volunteer in 1973 and went on to fulfill a variety of roles that decade, including a short stint as animal control officer in 1974, reserve police officer in 1974 and commissioned officer starting in 1976. His brother, John Haslip, joined the force in 1978, eventually moving to Kirkland where he’s now a lieutenant for the Kirkland police department.
As the nexus of an international border, interstate highway, railroad and harbor and in touch with federal, state and local agencies, “[Blaine] creates this wonderfully seasoned ever-changing stew of incidents and perspectives,” Haslip said.
In the ‘70s, the commercial fishing industry was thriving and intensely busy. Haslip said Blaine was called the “Tijuana of the north” because of all the tourists who were turning up due to strict alcohol and adult entertainment laws in B.C. Twelve taverns, two all-hours adult entertainment theaters and a slew of other similar businesses kept “business booming,” he said.
Police officers faced the challenge of keeping the community safe while allowing legal business to be conducted.
Blaine’s business environment changed by the mid-1980s, when B.C. blue laws were relaxed. The adult-oriented businesses began closing at the same time that the commercial fishing industry declined.
“That was a struggle for the community,” he said.
The changes meant the Blaine Police Department could put more emphasis on the residents, as opposed to tourists.
The department launched several programs, including the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program which added on a K-9 unit and hired an officer to monitor the elementary, middle and high school campus. The city also combined the police and fire departments and from 1985 to 1989, Haslip served as a volunteer EMT-D/Captain with Fire District 13.
The role allowed him to “see both sides of that fence,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for all of the volunteers who keep the community going.”
Haslip officially took the helm of the department as Blaine chief of police and director of public safety in 2003, after former chief Bill Elfo was elected Whatcom County Sheriff. The progression to the position was natural, Haslip said, adding, “It gets in your blood and you realize this is really interesting.”
As chief, he experienced the 2012 closure of Semiahmoo Resort, which caused a big drop in Blaine’s tax base. The department lost several of its “specialty functions” and had to cut its front office staff by half and the police force by 30 percent, he said. The change spurred officers to “become much more efficient,” he said.
Federal partnerships, including those with U.S. Customs and Border Protection became extremely valuable to the department, he said.
“They are all members of the community as well,” he said. “I can’t count the number of times that Border Patrol saved my bacon.”
Post 9/11, law enforcement agencies across the US took strides to better communicate with one another. As a result, Haslip pioneered the city’s Auxiliary Communications Service, a team of more than a dozen volunteers maintaining backup radios, a communications office and a portable station to meet the needs of emergency management agencies.
During his time as chief, he also served as the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s National Small Agency representative to the Department of Justice and on the board of directors for the Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence.
A father of three, Haslip said he is very grateful to his family for their sacrifice. “We all feel like we owe so much to our families for being so patient with us,” he said. In retirement, he plans to stay in Blaine and spend time with his wife, Leawei Zhang, a professor at the University of British Columbia.
He’s confident that the department will remain in good hands following his departure.
“We have very strong community support for the job officers do,” he said, noting that 11 officers are currently employed in Blaine. “Every one of them is invested in the community. That’s what lets me leave optimistic.”
Starting November 1, Michael Knapp will take the seat as interim chief. He is the former police chief of the Ferndale Police Department; he retired in 2016.
The city will shortly begin a search for a permanent chief.
Blaine city manager Dave Wilbrecht said the interviewing process will involve Blaine Police Department staff and the community before the Blaine City Council casts the final vote to appoint a new chief. The process will likely take about six months, he said.
“I’m privileged to have this opportunity,” Knapp said to Blaine City Council members at a special meeting on October 30. “I look very much forward to working with you all.”