Retiring Edmonds officer lived the cowboy code

EDMONDS — Some of Mike Blackburn’s best memories are of running through the woods at night, his police dog at his side.

Even when his flashlight died, or the bad guys hid, he could hear his dog. They could read each other. They could make the arrest.

Blackburn, 54, plans to retire this month after nearly 32 years at the Edmonds Police Department.

Blackburn, a sergeant since 1996, was one of five city employees who took a buyout as part of budget cuts. He was eligible for retirement. He knew his leaving would preserve jobs for younger officers.

Of all his assignments over the years, he’s most proud of his time working with police dogs Kai and Shadow and developing programs for young people at local schools, he said.

Those who’ve worked with Blackburn know him as a reserved, straight-laced fellow — often formal but always friendly.

Blackburn was brave and compassionate, especially during those awful moments among suspects, victims and cops, said H. James Zachor, a longtime south Snohomish County attorney whose firm represents the city and handles some prosecutions.

Blackburn was involved at times in investigations of high-level drug trafficking and other felonies.

“He stuck his nose right in and went after these people,” Zachor said. “He’s got his neck out there, too. He doesn’t hesitate to help people by putting himself in between everybody.”

Blackburn also had a knack for weeding the bad cases from the good, Zachor said. He did his homework to keep officers and complicated forfeitures within the law.

As a cop, Blackburn was a thinker: meticulous, quiet about his work and “ultra polite,” Zachor said.

When he worked in the schools in the 1990s, Blackburn was a model school resource officer, said Jan Beglau, director of secondary special education at the Edmonds School District.

Blackburn was professional and respectful of educators, she said. He got their culture. He earned their trust.

“He was wonderful,” she said. “I mean, Mike was one of the most conscientious (school resource officers), DARE officers, anything having to do with youth. He just had a keen understanding of how to work not only with the kids and the students, but our schools and our staff.”

Blackburn held himself to a higher standard, even for a cop, Police Chief Al Compaan said.

“He’s always talked about the cowboy code, and we give him a bad time about being a cowboy,” Compaan said. “If somebody says something really off the wall, he’ll say, ‘That wouldn’t meet the cowboy code. That wouldn’t be right.’ “

Blackburn was a good boss to his officers, too, the chief said. He was a hard worker, energetic and self-sufficient. He “never caused a lick of trouble,” the chief said.

“You’ve got to have a good street sense. Law enforcement isn’t just a job, it really is a calling,” Compaan said. “You really have to have a burning desire to do it, and Mike has had that. At the same time, if you totally forget about your spouse and family, that’s not a good mix. Mike was always able to provide a good balance. There was no question that he was dedicated to his job, but first and foremost, as he should be, he was dedicated to his family.”

Blackburn’s Old West ways had one downside, Compaan said. The cops in Edmonds had to keep multiple kinds of coffee stocked at the police station, or else they were forced to slurp Blackburn’s special blend: Folgers in the red can.

Just mentioning that coffee solicits groans from Edmonds cops.

“It tastes, like, not very good,” Compaan said. “He says, ‘Oh, that’s good cowboy coffee.’”

Blackburn will be missed, said fellow Sgt. Bob Barker.

Back in the day, they worked in the canine unit together, then the schools. Blackburn was the best man at Barker’s wedding.

Barker described his friend as “pretty doggone nice.”

“For him, it’s always about doing what’s right and doing what’s needed,” he said.

Blackburn plans to spend retirement with his wife, Cheryl. They own land near Snohomish. They keep horses and like riding in the backcountry.

The couple, who have two grown children, plan to celebrate their 33rd anniversary in January.

Before he retires, Blackburn wanted to confess to one little transgression:

One day, when he was a canine handler, about 1989, he started his graveyard shift by sitting down to a meal in the lunchroom. His police dog, Shadow, momentarily went missing.

The dog then came ambling into the room with his jaws wrapped around “a giant breakfast-type muffin,” Blackburn said.

The dog wasn’t allowed to eat on shift, so he hadn’t taken a bite.

“It was just in his mouth,” Blackburn said. “He just brought it to me. He sat right in front of me as if showing me what he had found.”

Blackburn casually walked back into the office where one of his colleagues had been eating breakfast and doing paperwork. He placed the muffin back on the desk, he said.

A few officers knew about what happened, but kept the secret, he said.

Until now.

The muffin’s owner was then the patrol sergeant. Now, he’s the chief.

Blackburn said he hopes the statue of limitations has run out for muffin theft.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Reception

A reception for retiring police Sgt. Mike Blackburn is planned for 3:30 p.m. Jan. 3 at the Edmonds Police Department, 250 Fifth Avenue N.

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