The end of the year brought the end of an era at the Tigard Police Department: Jim Wolf, who was the face (and voice) of the department as the public information officer for most of the nearly 28 years he worked there, retired Jan. 2.
“There have been so many changes,” Wolf said in mid-December. “I have worked under four different police chiefs, each with their own talents, ideas and managerial style. And I’ve witnessed many changes outside the department, including changing technologies and the population growth in the metro area and Tigard. At the department, we’ve had to be flexible and bend with these changes. We must stay a step ahead of criminals and the technology they use.
“Tigard has changed too. When we ask people at meetings what is their No. 1 concern, traffic is typically at the top of the list. You would think it would be crime. That is the perception of many Tigard residents: Things are going well here in Tigard.”
As part of his job, Wolf organized crime prevention programs and added, “I currently spend a lot of time devoted to community outreach. It’s all about livability issues and keeping people safe… Fortunately, all our chiefs have had an innovative approach and let me work on creative projects and think outside the box.”
One of those “outside-the-box” programs was a Volkswagen Beetle painted like a Tigard police vehicle that started in 2000 thanks to a partnership with Herzog-Meier. It ran successfully for 11 years. “That likely was one of our most-popular PR programs,” said Wolf, who learned about a city in Washington operating a similar program and proposed it for Tigard.
At a conference he saw a police cruiser with one-half painted like a yellow taxi cab, giving people a graphic lesson that when intoxicated, do they want to ride home in a taxi or to jail in a police car? He got the go-ahead to do it in Tigard using a vehicle that was going to be retired and available funds from drug seizures.
“What I valued regarding my role as PIO was the potential in making inroads with community-police relationships,” Wolf said. “It is so telling that our officers, who always give 150 percent, are so welcomed, so respected and so appreciated by the community. I have met thousands and thousands of people, and hearing (negative comments) just doesn’t happen.”
As PIO, Wolf was on-call 24/7 to respond to major incidents such as a homicide, bank robbery or fatal traffic crash, which thankfully did not occur very often, to make sure the public and media were getting the correct information.
“It is unprecedented how quickly information is shared,” Wolf said. “Sometimes people hear something before we do, but the various platforms allow us as an agency to get information out quickly. Social media has changed the landscape as to how we communicate.”
Why retire now?
“It is bitter-sweet,” Wolf said of leaving the department. “I have thought over the years about when I would know it was time. It’s good to have the perspective of a new set of eyes and ears, and I decided maybe it is time for someone new to step in.
“The city is moving at lightning speed with significant demands on the police department. There is the proposed public safety levy that would pay for 10 additional officers, and I’m spending significant time on the photo-enforcement program as we gear up to get it underway.”
Asked about memorable incidents over his almost three decades with the department, they range from the tragic to the mundane. Wolf still remembers a traffic accident on 99W where a vehicle was engulfed in flames and an off-duty soldier managed to rescue the driver but not the passenger. On a much lighter note, Wolf remembers getting to ride in the iconic Oscar Meyer Wienermobile in Tigard complete with a police escort.
“My departure is bittersweet, but I leave with fond memories,” he said. “I met incredible people I am taking with me in my heart, people who have touched me and this city and agency. I am leaving a great community in great hands with a responsible and compassionate police chief at the helm.”
Kathy McAlpine, who was previously the assistant chief of police with the Tacoma Police Department, became Tigard’s police chief nearly three years ago. “Words sometimes are not enough to fully describe the importance of a public information officer,” she said. “The PIO is often the face of the department and the voice of the chief. It is so important to understand the balance between the public’s need to know and ensuring important information is not released too early.
“Over the years, Jim has navigated this responsibility seamlessly. He has developed relationships and established a professional relationship with news media, journalists, business owners and the Tigard community. As a new chief coming from out of state, I relied on his experience and immediately trusted his opinion to tell our stories. I am both saddened to see him go but equally happy for Jim to enjoy his retirement. It is well deserved.”