Photo by Shane Harms
Michl has had a long career with the Seattle Police Department and trusted as a voice of reason when it comes to driving under the influence.

Life of Law: Eric Michl

Two words come to mind to describe police officer Eric Michl: dedicated and loyal.

Michl has had a long career with the Seattle Police Department and he is trusted as a voice of reason when it comes to driving under the influence.

He recently spoke to over 500 Ballard High School students about the life changing implications of impaired diving. What spurred the talk was the University of Washington’s star tight end, Austin Seferian-Jenkins wanting to talk to students about the dangers of impaired driving after his DUI arrest earlier last year. Michl was the arresting officer.

Michl has been with the SPD for 33 years. Of those 33 years he has dedicated his service to North Seattle, and especially Ballard – the place he was born and lived for most of his life.

“I like to live in the community I work … I lived around the city for most of my career, but I’m most comfortable living in North Seattle,” said Michl.

Born at Ballard Hospital, Michl grew up with service in mind. His father was a firefighter with the North Seattle station for almost 30 years.

Moreover, Michl was in good company in Ballard because his mother was a second generation Norwegian who moved here from Petersburg, AK. Much of Michl’s family fished commercially or worked in the maritime industry.

Michl said he first was interested in law enforcement when he saw a police officer draw his gun responding to a man attempting to rob the convenience store where he and his friends were playing pinball.

“I saw what it took to rush in and respond to a bad situation, and I knew I wanted to do that. …He was like a hero to me.”

Michl also said things were different when he was growing up. When he was young, officers had more time for community interaction.

“Its one thing that saddens me about the profession, we don’t have those opportunities anymore. Back then they recognized that kids were a potential source of trouble and so they made it a point to interact with us and so they visited us and did things that street cops today don’t have time to do and all of us benefited from it.”

Michl said that there are other implications as well.

“The officers suffer also if they don’t get the opportunity to interact with people and get to know their district and make a presence known so that the law abiding feel secure and that criminals are aware of officers.”

Michl remembered at least two officers coming to his house and talking with him about community service and staying out of trouble.

“I remember one time one of the officers got a call and he took me a long with him. It was at night and he was using the road light looking for a suspect, and I remember it was just so cool. … I really looked up to him.”

Soon Michl started at Ingraham High School and while enrolled he knew he wanted to go into law enforcement.

“I wasn’t the best student, but I knew to stay away from all the drinking and drugs and it made things a little easier… I focused all my efforts on finding a job that would help me get on the SPD force.”

At 18, three months after graduating, Michl was trained as a dispatcher. And later at age 22 he went to the police academy and signed on as a patrol in 1984. He worked on the southern areas of Seattle but longed to be on the North end. So in 1986 he was transferred to the North Precinct where he has served the northern Seattle communities since.

“I remember arresting people I had known since kindergarten, but I’ve helped a lot of people I’ve known too.”

Over the course of a lifetime, Michl has seen the community evolve.

“I’ve seen a lot of change here in North Seattle and some for the better but some is heartbreaking. … There use to be bowling alleys in every neighborhood, arcades and 24-hour restaurants, and really just more to do. It was a different place then.”

Michl currently works in the SPD driving under the influence (DUI) squad. He said that these days you don’t see more drinking, in fact maybe even less, but more of other substances like marijuana, cocaine, spice (bath salts or other compounds) and proscription medications being used combined with alcohol.

What’s more is Michl said some of the problems SPD is encountering is from too much time processing offenders.

“If I pick up someone for drunk driving I’m automatically tied up for three hours and that’s if everything goes smoothly. For those three hours or more there is one less patrol out there when I could be looking for more offenders and keeping the roads safe for citizens. … It all takes a tremendous amount of time and that district goes unmanned.”

Of the substances most used by offenders besides alcohol, Michl said marijuana use while driving has increased since its legalization.

“There’s a myth that if your prescribed marijuana you can drive on the fact that your prescribed, but that’s not the case at all. If you use marijuana while driving you could be charged with a DUI. …. Since its legalization I have seen a spike in it and have already seen a spike in blood tests.”

These days Michl lives in Greenwood and life has calmed down a little. Michl said that these days he’s noticed that he uses less force, or at least is incline to use less, though he feels its still one of the most important parts of the job.

“The biggest concern lately is use of force, but its all part of the job. …What you don’t want is police officers hesitating to use force when it’s warranted because if they lose the physical confrontation it is a potential death for the officer and a danger to citizens. … I’ve seen officers being disarmed it’s one of the scariest things to encounter.”

In lieu of the Department of Justice scrutinizing SPD over excessive use of force, Michl has mixed feelings about how the situation is being handled.

“ Yes we have had some isolated incidences of questionable conduct, but I’m disappointing with the department and with the DOJ coming in to make decisions that I feel needed to be made on our own and that kind of hurts.”

After 33 years with SPD Michl is thinking about retirement now that his two adopted children, Yadria and Alejandro, are grown.

“I could leave today if I wanted to but my son graduates in June and then I will just take it day by day.”

With New Years Eve come and gone, Michl has sound advice with his entire career backing him up:

“If you’re planning on celebrating with alcohol or marijuana over the holiday just simplify your night and take the car out of the equation.”

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