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Jim Soules retires after 22 years of service as Chief of the Prineville Police Department

by: SHELBY CASE/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Jim Soules speaks to a group of students at Crooked River Elementary School.

   When Crooked River Elementary kindergartner Elin Bony heard Jim Soules was visiting the school, she smiled.
   "Yay! Chief Soules!" said Bony.
   Soules's last day as Prineville's police chief was Wednesday. At 22 and a half years, he was the longest serving city chief in Oregon.
   Soules was visiting the school, where his wife, Becky, teaches kindergarten. Wednesday also marked Soules's last day to visit the school as police chief.
   Soules gave students books and reminded them of the importance of reading. He also quizzed them.
   "What do you do if you see a policeman?" Soules asked.
   "You sit down," one child said. Soules laughed and asked them again.
   "What'd I tell you?" Soules said, sitting in a chair in front of the youth. If they see a police officer or a police car and you're walking down the street, wave to the officer. He emphasized again that the police are "your friends."
   He also shared a couple of books with students, including "Daddy's Lullaby."
   "This is about 'Big Mike's Police Car,'" Soules said, holding up another book.
   "Just like you," a girl said.
   "Just like me," Soules replied.
   One boy, Diego Vargas, wanted to be a police officer.
   "Cool. I hope you are. You'll be a good one," Soules said.
   He took out police badges for students and asked them to promise to be good, to mind their parents and grandparents. And just like clock work and resembling small deputies, students held up their right hands, promising.
   Soules was born in Montana but has spent most of his life in Oregon. He also discussed why he decided to become a police officer. He started his first job in 1971 as a police officer on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
   "I had basically grown up on the reservation so that was home for me," Soules said.
   "I, as a kid, if there was trouble, I was going to be pretty close to it," Soules said. "We were always out later than we ought to have been and doing things we ought not to have been doing, like being involved with alcohol and fighting and running around late."
   "And as a result of that behavior, I had considerable contact with the police," Soules said, smiling.
   Lt. Jeff Sanders, who worked on the reservation, came up to Soules when Soules was 20.
   "Did you ever give any thought to becoming a police officer?" Sanders asked. Soules said he'd considered it. "'Well, why don't you come down and we'll put you to work?' And that was kind of the interview process."
   Sanders later retired as the police chief for the reservation.
   "I never got arrested by him ok? I never pushed the envelope," Soules said.
   Soules also had contact with Officer Raymond Sumpti as a youth.
   "I worked for him directly when he was my sergeant," Soules recalled. In all, Soules spent three and a half years at the Warm Springs Reservation in the police force. "I knew I drove him crazy because I'd come in with a new way of doing the schedules. And he'd listen very patiently and then tell me why it wouldn't work. And I suspect it was because he tried the same things."
   Sumpti is now a retired police chief and is on the tribal council at Warm Springs.
   "And we've certainly remained good friends too," Soules said. "In fact he said he's going to be at my retirement bash. He's got stories he wants to tell on me."
   Soules later worked three and a half years at the City of McMinnville Police Department as a sergeant. He started off in Prineville as a sergeant, which at that time was second in command to the chief. Later that rank was changed to lieutenant.
   Soules reflected on changes he's seen in the Prineville department over the years and in Prineville itself. By getting better budgets and salaries, that's meant the department has been able to hire better educated and trained personnel.
   "I don't want to show disrespect to the people who worked here before and in the old days," Soules said. "The pay was horrible and training was not what it should have been. Not just for Prineville, but for any place in the state of Oregon. Especially the small agencies."
   When he first came to Prineville, the community had nine sworn officers. Now there's 16 officers.
   "And Prineville was a rockin' and rollin' town," Soules said. "It was a good town. Don't get me wrong. But it had a very wild side. Hard drinking. Hard fighting. Hard living. All of that adds up to a lot of police business."
   "I think the town has calmed down considerably. I don't think it's the accepted behavior to see the fighting and the drinking," Soules said, adding that there's still some of that behavior. He added that the town doesn't seem to have as many domestic abuse cases as it used to. As the population increased, one would assume there'd been an increase in the number of abuse cases. That's not been the case. But he said "we still have more than an acceptable amount of that type of crime."
   In 1979, "this was a safe town." There weren't too many rapes from strangers or many armed robberies. Now 24 years later, one still doesn't see too many of these types of crimes.
   "That's a very good thing. In fact I think we have less of it now," Soules said.
   Soules indicated that he was appreciative of Prineville's citizens.
   "I've had incredible support from this community and it has truly been a privilege to be the chief of police here," Soules said. "And I have told my peers around the state for years, and in my mind it's the absolute truth, I have the best job in the state of Oregon."
   "I like the incredible community spirit here in this town," Soules said. "The location, of course, is awesome. But mostly it's the spirit of the people who live in Prineville. I would describe that spirit as a can-do spirit. For the biggest part, a spirit that is always going to try to do the good things and the right things. When there are bad things that happen in this town, people just pull together and you can't train for that and you can't buy that."
   Soules also spoke of his fellow officers, saying he was extremely proud of them.
   "I'm proud of everybody who works here - both the communication and the support and those who work on the street," Soules said. "I would tell them to always keep focused, that the only reason we exist is service. I would tell them to take care of themselves - that when you deal with people's problems all the time, when you deal with people in crisis, when you deal with criminals who do horrible and bad things to good and innocent people, that can take a terrible toll on you as an individual and it can take a terrible toll on your family. And I would remind them to live balanced lives."
   "Call from Kosovo," said dispatcher Cathie France to Soules.
   "I trained this kid," Soules said on his last day, his office bare except for a computer monitor, file cabinet and such. "Mikey!" he said, referring to Mike Full. Soules trained him when both worked at the McMinnville Police Department.
   Full is now a station commander in Kosovo and had retired as a sargeant from the McMinnville Police Department.
   "So what time of day is it where you are? Seven-thirty at night in Kosovo. Wow. Michael it is so good to hear your voice," Soules said.
   The conversation between the long-time friends also turned to horseback riding on the Ochocos.
   "Well, when you get home, we're going riding pal," Soules said.
   Soules starts his new job today with City-County Insurances, which is owned and operated by the League of Oregon Cities and the Association of Oregon Counties. Soules is an independent contractor and is working with Rod Brown, the retired McMinnville chief. The two will handle workmens' compensation and liability cases, working with police agencies.
   Soules doesn't have too many vacation plans for now.
   "I don't have much time," he added. However, he said he'll go on a float trip the week of May 12 with friends. In late June, he and his wife will fly to the Midwest to visit with friends.
   Throughout Wednesday, officers and fellow staff came to visit with Soules. He had called School Resource and Patrol Officer Ron Elliott in to his office.
   "These are for me?" Elliott asked, holding up a pair of black dress shoes.
   "Yeah, that was what I was calling you in here for," Soules replied.
   "Wow. Cool," Elliott said. "I was telling him the other day 'I need some like this to wear to funerals and he said, 'What size do you wear?' And I said, 'Eight and a half.' And he said, 'Well, you might just get some.'"
   Later, Soules finished his phone conversation with Mike Full and got off the phone.
   "It's been a good 14," Elliott said, giving Soules a hug. "Come visit. Come see us."
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