Born and raised in Alaska, Mike Haslip never had any intention of moving to Blaine, but an opportunity for his father to take a steady job changed his plans his sophomore year of high school.
“They dragged us kids kicking and screaming,” Haslip said. “We didn’t like the pavement, the streetlights. But it was what it was.”
“I lasted a year before I went back to the family home and lived on my own,” he said.
It was there, back in his native Alaska, that he found an interest in law enforcement – albeit in a roundabout way. He spent
his solo year at the family home, going to school and manning a 5,000-watt radio station in the middle of nowhere. “It was a captive audience,” he said of the experience. “I’m certain I wasn’t any good at it. But I’d listen to the police scanner to keep up on the news, and it was really interesting.”
The humanness of the calls that came across the scanner were compelling, Haslip said, and he felt a draw. The seed was planted.
He moved back to Blaine for his senior year of high school, after his family sold the house, and then attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia. A class called “Lawmakers, Lawbreakers” is what really pushed him in the direction of law enforcement. “We had to do field work for it, so I asked the police chief [in Blaine] to let me do an internship,” he said.
Haslip performed his internship with zeal, catching a record number of off-leash dogs throughout the city, much to the town’s chagrin. “It wasn’t a law that was really enforced before, and it was lax. I caught 34 dogs in two weeks,” he said. “Afterward, I wrote an erudite, seething report about the experience. The police chief talked to me a few weeks later, and said, ‘You have some good ideas, but you don’t know much about the world,’” Haslip said. The police chief invited him to find out what it was really like by either volunteering or joining the profession. Haslip took him up on the challenge.
It was so much fun that he stayed. “I volunteered for awhile, and I realized I could make a career out of this. I thought I’d be here a few years and then move on, but Blaine is such an interesting place to do this kind of work.”
“It turned out to be a fascinating, complex, funny, funny job,” he said. “There’s so much variety. A story on every corner.”
And, in 37 years, he’s seen it all – both the good and the bad.
When Haslip first joined the Blaine Police Department, there were about 1,900 residents in Blaine and 12 bars and taverns. “There would be standing room only at these places, with lines out the door. It was amazing,” he said. Blaine was in its “heyday,” with the hub of activity never ceasing. “It was the Tijuana of the north,” he said, mostly due to the strict alcohol laws in place throughout Canada.
“Most of the people we dealt with weren’t from around here. Our officers would routinely make 100 DUI arrests each a year. Our entire department doesn’t do that many now,” he said.
The constant coming and going made Blaine a great place to learn how to do police work for Haslip – at least the physical part. “We were arresting people all the time. I broke up a lot of bar fights,” he said with a chuckle. “I was blessed when I was young and working the street to work with a group of guys who shared the passion. We would come in on our days off and work for free, it was so much fun,” he said. “It drove our bosses crazy.”
“Now, it’s beautiful and quiet, and we have far more churches than we have taverns,” he said. “Which I think is a good thing.”
There may be fewer bars, but there is still just as much work to do with the same number of officers. Since Haslip was hired, the population of Blaine has grown to close to 5,000 residents and the city limits have expanded to include Semiahmoo. It’s around 8.5 square miles to cover, if you include the incorporated water area. To put that in perspective, it takes close to 40 minutes to drive from the east city limits to the west, and with often only one officer on duty, that’s quite a trek.
“We do our best to provide the most amount of service we can,” Haslip said. “But it’s difficult.”
And it makes it even harder to provide coverage when you’re stuck behind a desk. Haslip took on the position as chief of police in 2002, and now has a myriad of administrative duties that are part of his realm. Managing the departmental resources is a key element of that job. “I love patrol. Patrol is really, really cool, and it’s not just the adrenaline. I miss not being able to patrol anymore, but it’s not my job.”
But, his job is, in many ways, just as fun.
Now Haslip works closely with other agencies in the area, building relationships with department heads and developing ways to share information across agencies.
And, most importantly, he doesn’t get hit by cars anymore – an occurrence that happened more frequently than he would have liked when he was regularly patrolling. “People get dumb and they panic,” he said.
He still loves what he does, and he’s glad that he stayed all these years, despite his initial misgivings about the town. “It’s a unique place. There are thousands of people constantly moving through town, and an awful lot of crime transits our community,” he said. “So, it can be a dangerous place to do law enforcement, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dangerous place to live. We have city, county, state and federal entities all working in the same environment.”
The community is the most important aspect, though. “I love my job. I’m so blessed to spend my life in a place that’s so beautiful and interesting, and has such a unique, eclectic, intelligent group of people,” he said.