Alicia Dye | News Editor
Sept. 1, 2022
Most people know what career they want to pursue when they grow up. Some want to be an astronaut, some firemen, some teachers. Eric Holmes knew he wanted to be a teacher. He ended up in police work instead but he has no regrets.
Holmes, the new chief of police and director of public safety at Duquesne University, went to college at Slippery Rock University and majored in communications, with the intention of becoming a teacher. That is, until an interaction with the police changed his career trajectory.
“Growing up in the suburbs of Penn Hills, I never had a bad experience with police,” Holmes said. “While in college, I had a negative experience and realized I could make a change in law.
“I couldn’t change my major, as Slippery Rock didn’t have a criminal justice program then, but I knew that I had to be an officer.”
Holmes started his police career at the University of Pittsburgh as a member of their campus police department. Holmes went through the police academy while at the University of Pittsburgh, and later became a member of the City of Pittsburgh police department.
Chief diversity officer and senior advisor to the president for diversity, equity and inclusion Crystal McCormick Ware said Holmes was the perfect pick for the position.
“We have a true jewel in Chief Holmes,” Ware said. “He is respected regionally and nationally and Duquesne is blessed to have someone of that caliber serving as our chief of police and director of public safety.”
Holmes has been in law enforcement for 25 years, and one of his favorite things has been connecting with people over the years.
“There were little to no opportunities to engage in the community when I worked in municipal agencies,” Holmes said. “Here, I get to engage with students and connect with them.”
“It’s a lot easier to connect with people. When we connect with people, they are a lot more willing to work with us. We always say ‘connect before you correct.'”
That’s what Holmes wants to do with students and faculty at Duquesne, to connect with them as much as possible.
Holmes is enacting a ‘ticket’ system, where he and other officers give students a ticket, but for being safe. The ‘tickets’ are simple scratch-offs, and students can win a prize if they match a safety sign.
Another way Holmes is trying to get officers to connect more is by allowing officers to show arm tattoos, something they could not do before.
“We want to connect with students in any way possible. Some students have tattoos and they can bond with our officers who also have tattoos,” Holmes said.
Holmes has always been connected to Duquesne. While working for Pittsburgh Police, Holmes responded to a shots fired call in 2003 on campus. Since then, he’s been invited back to Duquesne multiple times and worked with former chief of police Thomas Hart over the years.
“I was Zone 2 Commander for a time, so I worked with Hart often since Duquesne is in Zone 2,” Holmes said. “When he was retiring, he told me to apply for the position.
“Having worked in the city, I bring all those connections I made with me. I’m all about connections and partnerships. They’re important to me.”
That’s why connecting with students is so important to Holmes. He wants to learn about students, learn from them and get to know them.
“The reason why we’re here is the students,” Holmes said. “We’re trying to engage with students on a personal level. We know that everyone has a different experience with law enforcement and we want students to have a good experience with us.”
Holmes received his master’s degree in criminal justice from Point Park University in 2018, which made him want to teach again, fulfilling what his original dream career was.
He teaches other law enforcement professionals about criminal justice in the 21st century and teaches about the history of policing and how it started as a form of oppression to divide groups.
“I’m a lifelong learner,” Holmes said. “I believe in always looking to improve myself.”
Even at Duquesne, Holmes is learning from other officers, especially with different situations.
“We believe in second chances. We’d rather send someone to [The Office of] Student Conduct rather than arrest,” Holmes said. “For example, we’re letting officers have more discretion to fake IDs. We want them to learn, so we don’t want them to get a citation from the city first.
“We want them to be educated. Their first incident with a fake ID, we’ll send them to Student Conduct instead of giving a citation.”
Richard Linzer, professor and director of the graduate criminal justice administration program at Point Park University, thinks Duquesne is lucky to have Holmes.
“[Holmes] was a great find for Duquesne,” Linzer said. “It’s a loss for the City of Pittsburgh, but I think he’ll make it [Duquesne public safety] into a top notch operation.”
Holmes couldn’t be happier to be at Duquesne.
“The university is like an oasis, and that’s what I love about it,” Holmes said. “My favorite thing about the university is the people.
“Everyone has been so nice and everyone is so supportive. I’m so happy to be here, especially for the students.”
Holmes looks to the future of Duquesne and how everyone tries to work together.
“I experienced my first freshman move-in and it was so rejuvenating. Every year should be like that,” Holmes said. “I get to see all the hard work paying off between residence life, us and everyone else.”
Linzer is happy for Duquesne to gain Holmes, especially for the students.
“He’s ideal for the students and the university,” Linzer said. “He’s patient, sincere and well-respected in the community. He’s not heavy-handed. He’s just a really good guy.”
Above anything else, Holmes wants to develop relationships with students.
“I have an open door policy. We don’t want anyone to suffer in silence, and we’re always open to suggestions.” Holmes said. “I want to work with students and organizations on fun projects. They don’t have to be police-related. We’re really open to everything.”