Pittsburgh's newest police commander has a knack for planning and an eye for detail, which will bode well for him when he takes the helm of the disparate and challenging Zone 2 precinct, those close to him said Tuesday.
Cmdr. Eric Holmes, 42, a 15-year veteran of the city's force, will be elevated today from his post as a sergeant in Chief Nate Harper's office to head of the Hill District station, one of the most powerful supervisory positions in the bureau.
Chief Harper declined to comment about the pick on Tuesday. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has said that Cmdr. Holmes was chosen from among several qualified candidates and his selection strengthens the diversity of the police bureau's upper echelons.
While the newly minted commander has served many roles in his time on the job, his most recent work has largely been behind the scenes. Promoted to sergeant in 2007, he was soon tapped to help coordinate the massive law enforcement presence during the city's G-20 summit and archive the library of legal and tactical documents it generated.
Paperwork still mounts, but the summit itself wrapped up nearly three years ago. Cmdr. Holmes said his job since then evolved into one that allowed him more opportunities to work with the public, as a liaison to the city's police chaplains, its colleges and universities and several youth programs.
He teaches ethics and morals at the city police training academy, was once a White House intern and has a criminal justice scholarship established in his name at Slippery Rock University, his alma mater.
Is he ready to oversee one of the city's busiest police zones?
"I'm able to establish partnerships, build relationships and bring people together around the table to solve a problem, no matter what it is," Cmdr. Holmes said. He said he has already established connections with some business owners and faith-based organizations and is looking forward to getting to know other community leaders in Zone 2, which covers 12 city neighborhoods, including Downtown, the Hill District, Lawrenceville and the Strip District. He replaces George Trosky, who was promoted to assistant chief of investigations after serving five years as the popular leader of the precinct.
Lt. Robert Roth, who works in the zone, said Cmdr. Holmes has the mind to spot and address problems in a district that has recently dealt with various drug-related crimes, such as vehicle break-ins, armed robberies and occasional gunfire.
"When Trosky was here, he was very community-oriented," Lt. Roth said. "Holmes will fit that position perfectly because he's so organized."
Cmdr. Holmes, of Westwood, worked as a volunteer firefighter for years in his native Penn Hills, then went on after college to serve stints for the University of Pittsburgh police and as the first black officer to work the often quiet streets of Ohio Township. He parlayed his communications degree into police work, he said, seeing communication and law enforcement as often one and the same. He is chairman of Slippery Rock's council of trustees.
In Pittsburgh, he has been a patrolman, worked in narcotics and vice, worked with a police dog, supervised a shift at the notoriously rough Zone 5 station in Highland Park and also supervised the now-dissolved Street Response Unit, whose uniformed officers aggressively targeted problems in the city's high-crime areas.
Cmdr. Scott Schubert of the West End station said he chose him for that post, and later to work in the four-member "G-20 liaison unit," because he is detail-oriented and dependable.
"He's very bright, he's always looking to improve things," Cmdr. Schubert said. "What helps him will be the fact that he's worked various assignments. All that helps you become a better supervisor. He's done a lot of behind the scenes things that people might not be aware of."
If Cmdr. Holmes is eager to meet community leaders, they are just as ready to know him.
"He needs to introduce himself and show us what his priorities are," said Carl Redwood of the Hill District Consensus Group, who urged the new commander to focus attention on the open-air drug trade he says plagues Centre and Wylie avenues. "We'll try to get him to our next meeting."