After 22 years as the voice of Tigard police, Jim Wolf calls it a career
Having served under four police chiefs as public information officer for 22 years, the Tigard Police Department's Jim Wolf has the distinction of being the longest-serving person currently serving in that capacity in the Portland metro area.
And as Wolf heads to retirement after serving as the voice for Tigard's 65-officer department since 1997, he recently reflected on the many changes he's witnessed over the years, from the advent of social media to get the word out about criminal incidents to trends in the types of crimes committed in the city.
When Wolf began in his PIO position — he previously served as both a community service officer for two years and before that supervisor of the records unit — much of the emphasis was on crime prevention, and more specifically the creation of Neighborhood Watch programs. That has changed dramatically.
"Now, it's not often that we have a request to initiate a neighborhood watch," he said. "I think many people prefer a more private approach to maintaining awareness about what's going on in their communities, even on their street. There's so many other resources people tap into."
Gone too are the days when a phone call or press release were generally the only ways to satisfy the media's and residents' demand for information.
"The introduction of social media has changed the landscape tremendously," said Wolf. "How we now share information, how quickly we can accommodate that and even just the creative avenues we can take from livestreaming a press conference on Facebook or livestreaming a meeting that has interest in various areas of the city, that's changed considerably."
Like many agencies, Tigard also uses the FlashAlert system, which allows public agencies to send news and information quickly to any group of media across the state, creating what Wolf calls "one-stop shopping."
In addition, he said, websites such as Nextdoor, an online private social network that includes news and information about what's going on in specific neighborhoods, have allowed the agency to get police news out quickly.
"I believe in Tigard, we have nearly 16,000 residences participating," Wolf said of Nextdoor.
Meanwhile, what's also changed over Wolf's career are trends in specific crimes. In the 1990s, police were often called out to the scene of methamphetamine labs inside homes or even hotel rooms.
"I recall those distinctly," said Wolf. "But as you know, over time, that type of activity — I cannot recall the last time (we responded) to something of that nature."
In large part, those labs disappeared because of statewide restrictions on pseudoephedrine, an ingredient amateurs once used to make meth.
Another former crime trend was the theft of catalytic converters, stolen out of cars and resold for the precious metals they contain.
"You know, people would come out of the shopping center and … they'd learn immediately when they turned the ignition on the catalytic converter was missing," recalled Wolf.
The problem became so bad in the early 2000s that the Tigard Police Department began offering free engraving on the parts to make them more difficult to fence.
Crimes more prevalent these days include organized gangs that shoplift large quantities of merchandize from local big-box stores, as well as Washington Square mall outlets.
In addition, Tigard, like other cities, has seen an increase of counterfeit credit cards to purchase gift cards and also electronics.
"We had some very significant investigations surrounding organized retail theft that included the transporting of the merchandise that was obtained out-of-state, out of the country," Wolf said. "Our commercial crimes unit has been very active in investigating those types of occurrences."
While Wolf finds a single overshadowing event difficult to pinpoint over the years, he said one anomaly occurred several years ago when the city recorded six homicides in one year. While some were quickly resolved with an arrest, others lingered.
"That was a very busy year," he said.
And Wolf has also been the department's point person during some emotional times when parents have lost a child or loved ones have lost loved ones.
"You know there are times that there was the tragic death of a child, with thoughts of the incident where the aftermath lingers for days, months or years," he said. "I can think about certain incidents a year later and just kind of reflect on the sadness that had occurred around that time."
While neighborhood policing has been around in Tigard neighborhoods since the early 1990s, Wolf said there have been successful additions to the concept, including the addition of the popular "Coffee with a Cop" event, in which residents can sit down and talk with a Tigard police officer.
"We've had very strong response," he said. "I think that's very telling that people are overwhelmingly supportive of community policing … Coffee with a Cop is an element of that. People learn 'what can I do or what can the police do or what can I do to help the police maintain our neighborhoods more safely?'"
In addition, the "Chat with a Chief" program where residents can meet one-on-one with Tigard Police Chief Kathy McAlpine has also proved popular, and Wolf said he's been impressed with McAlpine's tenure as well.
"Under Chief McAlpine's direction, the department has made the most significant strides toward professionalism, accountability and, I think, just operational efficiencies," he said. "I respect her managerial style and have enjoyed working under her authority."
McAlpine said she appreciates the time Wolf has spent with the department as well.
"Jim has been the face and the voice of Tigard PD for over 20 years, and he truly is an icon," said McAlpine. "As a new chief coming from out-of-state, it was nice to know that Jim had much of the media responses covered and it was really about consistency in messaging and we jelled right away."
She added, referring to a recent community survey conducted on behalf of the Tigard city government, "The Tigard Police Department has a 94% approval rating from the community, and I have to believe that Jim has more than contributed to the positive community connection by his media presence and quick responses."
Wolf, along with his wife, Rita, has three adult children. He has no specific plans for retirement, he said, but he plans to keep busy and active.
"I love walking for exercise," Wolf said. "I'm definitely into physical fitness and hiking."
Past hikes have included the top of Mount St. Helens.
"That was quite remarkable," he said. "It was exhausting, but it was worth it."
Summing up his career, Wolf said he's met some impressive people along the way, people who have a genuine concern about the community and support it.
"I've been so fortunate in this role," he said.
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