‘This is a profession I think I’m meant for’

Mercer Island Police Department Chief Holmes discusses life on the force.

Ed Holmes has been a fixture on the Mercer Island Police Department for the last 26 years.

Holmes has stood at the helm of the department as its chief since 2006, after serving as a patrol officer, school resource officer, detective, patrol sergeant, personnel and training sergeant, special operations team member and operations commander.

The Reporter asked him a series of questions about his career and what drives him to put on the badge each day.

* Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into the field.

Actually, I have a teaching degree. My intention was to be a biology teacher. So I pursued a degree in biology and education. After I graduated from Seattle Pacific University, I wound up working at Echo Glen (in Snoqualmie), which is a place for incarcerated juveniles. So I took my teaching background and sort of applied that to juvenile incarceration settings, which was not my plan. But I happened across a job opportunity there, so I took it.

So I worked there for a couple few years and became pretty interested in police work while I was up there. And I was living on Mercer Island at the time. And so I applied and was fortunate enough to get hired. And that was in June of 1994. Twenty-six years later, here I am. I was in patrol for a couple of years. I was our first school resource officer back in 1996.

I hold that program near and dear to my heart because I have a heart for kids. I saw the value in that program and really the emphasis being on keeping kids out of the criminal justice system. So we’ve carried that scene through since 1996. We’ve had a number of school resource officers, it’s generally around a three-year assignment, although our current resource officer has been in there longer. But that was a really great assignment. After that, I went back to patrol as a patrol supervisor. Then I was in personnel and training as a supervisor in that unit. Then I was the lieutenant and operations commander. And then in 2006, I was appointed as chief of police. So I’ve been in the police chief role for 14 years now.

* What’s it been like being in the lead role here, running a smaller police force here on the Island?

Well, I think I count myself very fortunate because we have what I believe to be a really solid police department. We are right in the middle of a super busy metropolitan area. And so it isn’t as though we’re some small police department way off the map somewhere. We’re right in the middle of a very busy urban area. We have amazing partnerships with our surrounding agencies, which I’ve grown to deeply appreciate over the years. So if we need something from a surrounding agency, they’re quick to offer that up just as we are to our neighbors.

So we have a very good, strong, professional working relationship with the other agencies. And that’s not always true. I’ve been all over the country and talk to the other chiefs from different parts of the country and they don’t enjoy the same sort of collegial support, professional friendships that we have here with the sheriff’s office and our surrounding agencies. We get together regularly and just really work well together. So that’s been something I really appreciated. And I appreciate the confidence of our police department here with patrol and our detectives, our marine unit, our records, our evidence.

I put our agency up against other agencies. No problem. I used to do assessments of other police agencies for our state chiefs and sheriff’s association. And I’d always come back and just be really grateful for what we have here on Mercer Island. So, again, not not a huge police department, but we have some really amazing people working here. And we can very easily pick up the phone and ask for assistance from our larger neighbors.

And they’re very happy to give it to us just as we are when they pick up the phone and asked for us. So it’s been a really good career. I very much enjoyed it. I would pick Mercer Island all over again if I was back in my 20s looking to be a police officer somewhere. I would absolutely put Mercer Island again as my No. 1 choice.

* We constantly are getting notes and different things about people appreciating you guys. What’s the community connection like there on the Island?

I think we’ve always had support from our community. We really have. And I’ve always felt it. I will say that I’ve never felt it as strongly as I have recently. So I think just the events we’ve all seen in the national headlines. Yes, there is room for change and reform and policing, and I think anybody would tell you that. But what we don’t see here is some of the the lack of support that we unfortunately are seeing in other departments.

So, you know, this notion to defund police, it causes me a lot of concern just for the safety of the general public, sort of as a broad, general statement. But on Mercer Island here, we don’t feel that. In fact, we feel the opposite. We feel an outpouring of support. And I think people really do appreciate the efforts we make to help everybody stay safe. We’re right between the state’s largest and fifth largest city, and yet we maintain a very low crime rate, relatively speaking.

I realize there’s a lot of contributing factors to that. I don’t want to take all the credit for that, but I will take some in our policing, not only the patrol officers and their very proactive approach, but also our criminal investigation sections, the detectives to do the follow up. They work really, really hard on turning over every rock that they can, trying to make sure that this island stays a really safe community, despite our location like I say in the middle of a big urban area. So, you know, I’m just really proud of the department and I’m really pleased with what I would call a true partnership that I feel we have with the community.

So when there are crimes or issues facing the department, I have citizens calling me up. We have conversations. We talk about how do we partner on this? How can we collectively work together to make this island more safe? We have strong support from our city council right now, which is remarkable and much appreciated. So between the general citizen that I interact with up to our elected leaders, this community values their public safety. And it shows in the budget decisions that our council makes, the support we have from the council and the support we have from citizens.

We had Thanksgiving dinner brought in for the officers on Thanksgiving. On Christmas, we had a full Christmas dinner brought in. We have baskets of baked goods brought in. I mean, this is unusual. It’s just I think people really want to make sure that we understand that the work that the officers do is noticed and appreciated. And that means so much to all of us. And especially as the police chief here, you know, I talked to other chiefs and they don’t always feel what we’re feeling here. And it goes a long ways. I mean, this is generally a profession where we don’t receive a lot of thank yous, to be honest.

You know, we’re in the enforcement role. So I get it. We are the ones writing speeding tickets and making arrests. So I appreciate the fact that generally we don’t get a lot of people expressing thank yous, but I think people just have looked around at the national narrative and said, ‘You know, that’s not us. That’s not here. We appreciate our police department and the partnership we have.’ And I mean that sincerely. I really do believe this is a partnership.

And having been a member of our Rotary Club and been able to get to know some really wonderful, very giving, caring people on the Island, we have regular conversations. They have easy access to their police department, to their police chief specifically, and we problem solve. We put our heads together. I just feel an incredible amount of support. And for that, I am just very, very grateful.

* Obviously, 2020 has been a tough year for everyone, and what’s it been like for you and the MIPD? What have been some of the challenges and some of the concerns that you’ve had to deal with?

I mentioned before, you and everybody’s aware of what’s been going on nationally. And our neighbor just to the west of us, Seattle, has had a lot of issues they’ve had to deal with. And we are right there next to them watching that. We’ve had some of that here on Mercer Island, some activity with protests and some demonstrations. And for the most part, again, that support we have from the citizens has just been really heartwarming and encouraging for us.

And I just really feel for the officers who work in environments where they are not supported the way we are. Our job is hard enough. And when you couple that with a lack of support from your community, I just can’t imagine how difficult that’s got to be. So as hard as this year has been for all of us, offsetting that sort of negative tone that’s out there in the general public, is the incredibly positive tone we have experienced here on Mercer Island.

I’m not suggesting we’re without issues and challenges. We all have them. But when you overlay a lot of community support on top of the challenges we face, it makes a really big difference. It really does. So we are all very aware of that. I won’t say it’s been without issue. We had one of our officers retire early. He just felt like he had enough. And we’ve had others talk about it.

* To kind of feed off that last question, we’re in a pandemic, we’ve had protests, a lot of different things happening, not just worldwide, and on the Island as well. Do you guys feel like you’ve handled everything pretty well with the things that have arose?

I would say yes, and there’s some reasons for that. So first of all, our city’s emergency manager is also a police officer. She’s our emergency manager and crime prevention officer. So she’s very, very engaged. She has the entire department working with her. And the other thing I’d say is our city manager adjusted very quickly when this pandemic hit and she set up the emergency operations structure.

She set up our city government under the EOC (emergency operations center) structure. And so rather than trying to do business as usual, she recognized that this is a very unusual time that we’re facing right now. So how do we react accordingly? How do we remain nimble when you face these kind of challenges? Jessi Bon, the city manager, she set up the EOC structure. And so we all worked under that framework, which I think made a huge difference.

And she did that fairly early on. My hat’s off to her for recognizing what we were facing and making a whole lot of adjustments with Jennifer Franklin, our emergency manager. They worked together on setting this up. So I think that it went a really long ways.

And, of course, you know, getting all the PPE (personal protective equipment) for the officers and the firefighters and all the other city workers who had to physically come to work, just trying to make sure we all stay safe. We have people coming in, cleansing, cleaning, sanitizing stuff all the time for us. So just that notion of collectively working together as a big team. Regardless of what department — police, fire, public works, finance, all the departments — we work really well together and have for many years, that’s sort of an institutional way of doing business here.

* You mentioned earlier, obviously with a lot of successes, but there’s going to be challenges along the way. What are some of the challenges that you faced while working on the Island and how have you dealt with them?

Well, Mercer Island has always seemed to be or can be a prime target for property crime. So, for instance, we’ve seen an increase in property crime right now, which is very frustrating for all of us to see. It’s not unique to Mercer Island. So that’s one thing I’d like to be sure people understand when there’s a spike in property crime here on the Island, it isn’t as though there’s something unique about Mercer Island and therefore we’re doing something different because we’re more of a target. The criminals don’t have any concerns about jurisdiction. So the ones that are stealing mail or prowling cars on Mercer Island are doing it in Seattle, Bellevue, Issaquah, Renton, Redmond, Kirkland, they’re doing it all over.

So that continues to be a challenge. And just reminding people, do your part. So that notion of crime prevention, it really is a partnership. And just as we are doing our job, we need the community, the citizens, to also do their part. I talked to someone who said a couple of years ago, he just casually mentioned he doesn’t have a key to his front door because he never locks it.

And so just trying to get people to understand, yes, we are in a relatively safe community, but we are not immune from crime. And the less attractive we can make ourselves, the better. So don’t leave your laptop on your car seat. Don’t leave your purse or your wallet in plain view. And what I’m saying may sound obvious, but it continues to happen. So just taking reasonable steps. I don’t want to create paranoia or be concerned, but just being responsible.

We had a Lock It Or Lose It campaign a while ago, just trying to get people to lock their car doors, lock their house when they leave, just take reasonable steps without, again, creating panic or paranoia. Just that reasonable balance between, you know, living a comfortable, free life and at the same time doing your part. At least make it hard, make a criminal have to work for it instead of making things really easy.

So there’s always that challenge. It’s become particularly challenging in this pandemic environment where we can’t physically go to people’s neighborhoods to do block watches. So we’ve been doing those virtually. Maybe it’s not my first choice, I’d rather do things in person, but all things considered, if a bunch of people can log into the Zoom on the teams meeting and speak to a police officer about some crime prevention tips, I’ll certainly take that rather than do nothing.

We dedicate resources to trying to keep people safe and their property safe and to prevent any of us from becoming victims of crime, regardless of how small that crime might be. We don’t want to see that here. And so we really do try our level best to be proactive in our policing on the patrol, to follow up on the cases when the detectives get it, and then to work proactively on the front end on crime prevention techniques and methods.

* What are your goals for 2021 to kind of turn the page and move forward?

One of the big things that I think stands out is obvious for everybody is this pandemic. So getting people vaccinated, getting this pandemic behind us, let us get back to business, more business as usual. So that’s a big one. And then I think just continued partnerships with our community, continued expressions of gratitude both ways, certainly from the police department to the community. I’m here to tell you community, how grateful we are for the support.

Getting things back to normal, whatever that might look like, would be would be pretty huge. I think this pandemic has taken its toll on people. You know, we see families in crisis because they are always together. They have financial issues they’re facing that they didn’t have to before things shut down. So they have the stress of finances. They have the stress of always being in the same house together. They have the stress of worry about the pandemic. So get getting that behind us, getting that in our rearview as soon as we can is something I think we all look forward to.

And then just continuing to do our part. We had to suspend our Citizens Academy. So getting that back up and running and getting our CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) classes back up and running, just being being as integral a part of the community as we can be to continue the support and the trust that community has afforded us. Just making sure we always hold that dear and never take it for granted.

* What keeps you going in this field? This is obviously something that you’re passionate about, and like I said, we’ve been through tough times and especially in 2020 with a lot of things said and done and whatnot in the police field.

Well, I think for starters, I work in a really great environment. Regardless of where you work as a police officer, there’s stress and certainly as a police chief, there’s different drivers for the stress, but it’s always there. But having the support that we have. I can’t emphasize that enough, it goes an awful long ways. I have talked to other chiefs who are looking at the exit door. They feel like they’ve had enough. They wonder how much longer they can take it, that type of thing.

Having lived here before I got hired and then having been here for 26 as a police officer in the community and 14 as the chief, I’ve just had the privilege of meeting really wonderful people. I enjoy wonderful community members that I can interact with. I enjoy great internal staff and a police department that supports me.

This is a profession I think I’m meant for. Community safety, protection, I just take that very seriously. It’s part of how I’m wired. And I’m oriented toward looking at ways, different ways, better ways. How do we improve, how do we continue to keep this community safe? That’s just who I am. And when I get to do that in an environment such as the one I’m in now, it’s a really good marriage of passion and support from the community. I just count myself blessed.