Blainepolice chief reflects on more than 25 years service

Published on Thu, Sep 29, 2005 by Tara Nelson

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Blaine police chief reflects on more than 25 years service

By Tara Nelson

Blaine police chief Mike Haslip, has witnessed many changes to both the city and the police department in his more than 25 years in Blaine.
Haslip first joined the force in 1974 as a volunteer reserve officer, acting as the city dogcatcher under the guidance of former police chief Butch Hinchey, to complete a work-study requirement of Evergreen State College’s criminal justice program, “Law Makers and Law Breakers.”
Haslip, who said he had written several papers on the sociological aspects of police work and the things he thought wrong with it, was considering a career in journalism at the time.

But he said it was that volunteer service with the Blaine police department that inspired him to take up a career in law enforcement instead.“In retrospect, I think the dogcatcher thing was a way of finding out the other side of the coin,” Haslip said. “I think it enlightened me about criminal justice.”

He said he enjoyed a variety of things about the job but in the end, it was being able to help people in a very direct manner that got him hooked. “I kind of got addicted,” he said. “It was a very powerful experience to see you’ve been able to help someone … and catching bad guys is fun, too.”

And, of course, there was the element of adrenaline, he said. “Back in those days, Blaine had more than 12 bars and they were usually standing room only,” he said. “There were nights when it was just you and one other officer and you spent the evening running from bar fight to bar fight.”

Haslip who calls himself more of an administrator these days than an action figure, said one thing has never changed – his love for the job. “The ability to have an immediate affect on people through helping them is something you don’t lose that with rise in rank,” he said.

Haslip was born in Kodiak, Alaska and grew up in the small town of Sol Dotna. His father was a welder for several refineries there and, in 1971, got a job at the Cherry Point refinery.

“He dragged all of us kicking and screaming down here,” Haslip said of his experience moving to Blaine with his family. He spent half of his sophomore year at Blaine high school before moving back to Alaska on his own. While there, he worked at a 5,000-watt commercial radio station. It was that experience that made him consider a career in journalism.

“You had to do everything from write (advertising) copy and news stories to firing up the transmitter at 6 a.m.,” he said. “I really enjoyed that.”

The next year, his parents persuaded him to return to Blaine and he graduated from Blaine high school in 1973. During his reserve officer stint at the Blaine police department, he worked a variety of jobs such as assistant court clerk, police secretary, doing “pretty much anything to help out.”

In 1976, he applied for an opening for police officer. Whatcom County sheriff Bill Elfo, then the Blaine police chief, appointed Haslip to deputy chief in 1996, just a few years before moving on to the sheriff’s office. In 2003, he was appointed to chief of police.

Today, Haslip, who sits in his desk and uses the ‘any available space’ method of filing papers, marvels at how the job description has changed as a result of technological and national security improvements.
His current technological fixation is a Nextel Blackberry, a hand-held device with cell phone, intercom and email capacity, provided by the department.

“It’s very much more than I expected,” he said. “The job has changed enormously since I got into the field 28 years ago. It’s much more complex, more nebulous.”

What do you enjoy about working in Blaine?

Haslip said he particularly enjoys the opportunity to work in a small town on an interstate freeway that intersects an international border near a significant marine highway.

He also said he also enjoys the fact that Blaine’s unique geographical location requires the coordination of a variety of federal and state agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol and Coast Guard. “Working with those other agencies certainly raises the bar for us,” he said.

In addition to having to be familiar with laws and guidelines for operating on an international border, he said Blaine police officers need to be aware of different cultural sensitivities, the lack of which could have economic ramifications in terms of lost tourism revenue.

“It is important for our officers to be cognizant of those issues to do their job in a manner that keeps the community safe but also protects the rights and sensitivities of people who are visitors here,” he said. “On any given day, hundreds and on occasion thousands of people are visitors from not just out of town but out of the country.”

‘Not enough hours in the day’

But not everything has been easy. One of the biggest challenges Haslip said the department faces is the lack of funding coupled with increased demands for staffing.

As with most cities in Whatcom County, recent budget projections anticipated a shortfall in which revenues were not expected to meet expenses. And, as budgets have grown steadily tighter in all facets of government, many of the services that are no longer provided by other agencies are left to the police department, he said.

“There’s not enough hours in a day,” he said. “And that’s for all of us, not just me.”

He said the police department operates today at about 80 percent of the staffing it had in 2002.

“We have tried to maintain our level and quality of service during that staffing reduction and it’s been very difficult,” he said. “In 2002, we had a chief, a deputy chief and 12 officers. I’m now doing the functions of both the chief and the deputy chief and we now have 11 officers.”

The problem, he said, is worsened by recent increases in population and the two to three years it takes an applicant recruit to become a police officer.

“We are still trying to come up to the staffing level we had in 2002 let alone trying to increase our staffing in time to maintain service levels for all these people moving in,” he said. “There is a growing gap in the amount of services we are being asked to perform and the amount of staff we have employed.”

What are the biggest challenges for Blaine?

Haslip said he thinks the biggest challenge facing the Blaine community is deciding as a group what kind of town it wants to become – if it wants to remain a community with a small town feel or if it is willing to abandon that culture in pursuit of economic interests.

“Absent of making a conscious decision and steering towards that goal, the culture of the community will change and it might not be in the direction that people want,” Haslip said. “One of the things I love about Blaine is that it’s a very open community. It is the people that live here who are, for the most part, very well intentioned, they are accepting.”