Southern Tier Voices: Recognizing National Police Week: May 15-21, 2022
Retired Police Officer David Holmes: Reflections on a Career in Law Enforcement
Retired Elmira Police Officer David Holmes swore to protect and serve the Elmira community on January 14, 1980. He fulfilled that oath (and then some) for 34½-years, retiring in June 2014.
Ofc. Holmes was born in Elmira. However, his Dad was in the U.S. Air Force so, after his first year, Ofc. Holmes’ family moved to San Francisco first, ending up in Niagara Wheatfield, NY (outside Niagara Falls), where he grew up until ninth grade, when his father retired and they returned to Elmira, NY.
While in Niagara Wheatfield, Ofc. Holmes grew up interested in sports and became an accomplished Boy Scout with the on-base Troop #864 of the Greater Niagara Frontier Council. One night, he had the opportunity to utilize his Boy Scout First Aid training when two high school girls showed up on his family’s doorstep requiring medical attention. He used his training to tend to the girls’ wounds while his father telephoned for help. That experience, and the following praise he received from the New York State Troopers on the scene, inspired Ofc. Holmes toward a path in law enforcement.
He returned to Elmira with his family when his Dad retired from the Air Force, and finished his high school career at Elmira Free Academy, where he graduated in 1973.
After enlisting in the U.S. Navy and serving four years as a Helicopter Aircrewman in Anti-Submarine Warfare, Ofc. Holmes returned to Elmira, enrolled in the Criminal Justice Program at, what was then, Corning Community College and, eventually, ended up at the Elmira Police Department.
Photo provided. Officer David Holmes, Elmira Police Department, 1980-2014
In addition to serving on Elmira PD, Ofc. Holmes taught a Freedom and Law class at Elmira Free Academy for 26 years. This is the same class that helped inspire Ofc. Holmes to become a police officer when he took it under Elmira Police Officer Bill Mathers.
Ofc. Holmes also served as the high school and Elmira City School District’s Resource Officer until 2012.
In addition, he had assignments with the Elmira Police Patrol Force, the Elmira Police Detective Bureau, and a special assignment to a New York State Police Drug Investigation Task Force.
Ofc. Holmes was also a Liaison Officer to the Elmira Neighborhood Watch program and the Elmira Police Officer recruiting program. And he was Liason Officer to the Chemung County Human Relations Commission Board, the Chemung County Youth Bureau, the Southside Community Center, and the Chemung County Teenage Suicide Committee, as well as serving on the Chemung County Multiple Assessment Team (MAT Team- a juvenile diversion program). He was also a certified Mountain Bicycle Patrol Officer and Police Instructor.
May 15 through May 21 is National Police Week. Retired Ofc. Holmes agreed to share
reflections on his service and the changes he’s observed in law enforcement throughout his time with EPD, and how local and national social issues impact all First Responders.
Q. #1: What was your overall experience like as an Elmira Police Officer?
Overall, I’d do it again. The first half of my career was great! I learned a lot from the old-timers - these were World War II vets … also from Korea and Vietnam, who came home after the war and went to work in the factories, and then joined the police force.
It was challenging when I started out. I had a lot of assignments but it was also a simpler time back then. All we had was a revolver, a car radio that worked sometimes, and our handcuffs. Now, you open the squad car door and there’s so much technology in there … so many buttons and noises they have to pay attention to now.
I really enjoyed my time in the schools. I got to know the kids. I got to know their families. And I was able to help a lot of kids headed in the wrong direction. Kids that just needed some attention, to know that someone was keeping an eye on them. That job gave me so many tools for my toolbox that helped me as an officer.
The last two years of my career – I could leave it. I would not do it again.
After leaving the School Resource Officer position I was put back on patrol and so much had changed, with the technology and, just the procedures … it was different than when I came onto the force.
Q. #2: How do you think the job changed over the time you served, and since you’ve retired?
There’s a lot more diversity than when I started on the force. When I started in 1980, the department had a lot more generational officers -- officers, that came from generations of families that had served in law enforcement. Over the years, the force has diversified greatly. It’s gotten a lot more diverse, overall.
When I left, tattoos were just coming in. And facial hair. We couldn’t show tattoos or have long hair or facial hair when I started.
I also think the training’s gotten better. The equipment’s gotten better … this generation of officers are tech wizards!
Photo provided. Ofc. David Holmes taking a spin in a GEM (Global Electric Motorcar) car.
Q. #3: What do you think local law enforcement needs from the community to succeed in policing the region?
Two things – First, this generation and the following generations need to stop telling kids that First responders are bad. I’m not just talking about police, but corrections officers, EMTS … these are all good careers.
Second, people gotta start communicating with police again. You know, there used to be people that would talk to police when something illegal went down. I don’t think they even get anonymous calls for downtown when something goes down anymore. Listen, no one wants to talk until something happens in their neighborhood. Then, all of a sudden, they’re looking for justice but no one wants to talk. With all of the phones out there now? Before an officer gets out of his car he’s got a phone recording him, but nobody saw anything when the crime’s being committed?
Q. #4: How have national and local social issues impacted First Responders?
Every time there’s a national incident … or a local incident, our procedures change. Sometimes not for the better.
I remember, after the Rodney King incident we had to get rid of our police batons and they gave us ASPs which, I thought, was a lot worse than what we’d had before.
Procedures change, too. I remember, after O.J. Simpson there were changes to how evidence was collected.
Rules and regulations get updated … so, police stations large and small are affected by incidents around the country.